Working for the greater good is a vocation... but there are many challenges out there, says Minister Peter Sinon
As part of our quest to see what makes Seychelles tick, Seychelles Life is asking prominent people about their work in the public eye. We are interested in their career, the challenges they face in their work and how they relax away from it all at home. First up, in what we aim to be a regular series, is Peter Sinon, Minister of Natural Resources and Industry. We put these questions to him...
Seychelles Life: Politics is clearly in the blood. Your late parents Guy and Rita Sinon were in government and your aunt is the Seychelles High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, H.E. Ms. Marie-Pierre Lloyd. Did you always see yourself working in public life?
Minister Sinon: I suppose with benefit of hindsight I guess, yes. It has always been there somewhere although my dream is to one day be in the private sector and be successful. Public life is a vocation – working for the nation, the greater good; sometimes, if not most times, leaving self and those closest to you and those who love you the most to one side for the love of the intangible whole. All too often, if you are not careful, you either miss the boat and never have a chance to enjoy and catch up, let alone return, the love and attention that those closest to you, who love you most, have harboured for you for many years. So no, I do not always see myself working in public life. I see the day that I gracefully bow out and focus my attention on things that have been on my mind to accomplish for while now and spend quality time with loved ones. Charity works features high on this agenda.
Seychelles Life: What gives you the most satisfaction from your work?
Minister Sinon: I guess it is a co-worker that reminds me of my young days in public service, especially if it is one that is very much more mature and conscientious than I ever was in my early days. I really do appreciate the co-worker with a positive attitude, who is organised and who you can depend on. The icing on the cake comes with the ones that are not afraid to take risks – to make suggestions and proposals, to venture into the not-so-well-known, to take initiative, to err and to learn from same. We do have such conscientious, mature, hard-working and risk-taking young graduates that one can rely on to take positions that I hold now. Iit is a good sign.
Seychelles Life: How do you relax?
Minister Sinon: My instinctive response to this question would be “I don't”! But seriously thinking about it, I do find time to spend with self and with family. Those are my relaxing times that may be with a good movie.
Seychelles Life: What are the greatest challenges your department faces 1: In the fishing industry?
2: In agriculture?
Minister Sinon: In Fisheries three of the greatest challenges are:
(A) To provide infrastructural and other support services to all the sub-sectors of fishing industry – that includes the artisanal fishers, the semi-industrial, the mainly tuna industrial fishing and all other forms of fishery such as the sea cucumber harvesting and soon the mariculture and aquaculture sub-sectors.
(B) While sponsoring tertiary education for successful candidates, the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) also partners and assists the Maritime Training Centre (MTC) to ensure that the youngsters who are interested to partake in the sustainable development of our “Blue Economy” do have the basic requirements and are qualified for Seychellois to continue to rule the waves of the Indian Ocean.
(C) And finally, last but by no means least, it is the effective monitoring, surveillance and control of our 1.3 million square kilometers of ocean to combat Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fisheries and enforce compliance by all licensed fishers operating in our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to ensure “renewability” of our precious but finite renewable resource tops all the aforementioned challenges.
In agriculture, the challenge is in all aspects of this sector that was severely affected with the macro-economic reforms that ushered in a more liberal and open-market economic orientation. Like the Phoenix, the sector has the challenge to rise from the ashes and has the opportunity to reinvent itself to make a success of producing what paradise Seychelles has to offer.
In a market where we have opened up our borders to allow cheaper food alternatives to flood in, price has and continues to be the prime determining factor. In the tough economic situation that we all, tourists and locals alike, went through, a number of experienced and productive farms closed down simply because they could not compete with the cheaper imported alternatives.
In sync with the above trend, the budget and support services for the sector dropped progressively bringing further down the contribution of this sector to the national GDP. The challenge is to revive agriculture in the 21st Century and that is being done within the framework of the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) that Seychelles adhered to in September 2011. The Seychelles National Agricultural Investment Programme (SNAIP) is being finalised and will soon be ready for validation and presented to government and partners for mobilisation of resources for its implementation. That would indeed be the most significant if not the first flap of the wings of the Phoenix as it attempts its revival flight from the ashes.
Seychelles Life: Re the effects of globalisation on Seychelles, what has happened to the chicken farmers and their families who stopped trading because imports were cheaper? What can be done to soften such impacts on traders?
Minister Sinon: Luckily, the large majority found another economic activity to earn them a living so they simply switched or adapted to those. The major impact was on the producers who closed down, but a number of them stepped up their trading attributes and are today the most prominent importers of cheap chicken. Price being the prime determining factor in difficult fiscal times, there is nothing much that could actually be done. However, as time passes and the economic situation improves we are witnessing concerns and signs that there is an emergence of demand for safer, more nutritious and traceable foods – especially chicken in certain segments of society.
Globalisation opens markets, but also opens up and makes accessible all sort of information. Various adverse reporting on the safety and dangers of imported cheap foods from over the seas are raising genuine concerns and, with it, demand for locally produced and traceable foods. When it comes to health and safety, price takes a back seat. Those are areas where our farmers are considering coming back to the trade.
Seychelles Life: What innovations do you want to bring to Seychelles to make it more self sufficient?
Minister Sinon: I think that in a more open and competitive local, regional and global economy the formula has hardly altered. We should identify and focus on areas where we have the slightest of comparative and / or competitive advantages (although they are very few). But we should not hesitate to venture into them and create the necessary environment for such activities to prosper.
Better conditions to spur farmers and fishers into action is the innovation that I want to bring back to Seychelles. However, it must come back in a form that resolves the constraints and surmounts the obstacles of today and tomorrow and not those of yesterday-year! The solutions are not on the shelves of the past era. They must be designed on the go with a great degree of attention, contact, and communication with the field practitioners. The farmers, fishers, traders and consumers will coalesce to give their versions of the state of play. With their feedback, the duty of being the honest broker for the national interest rests in the hands of my technicians and I to put forward the most effective policies and strategies.
I guess if I was to place a finger on one innovation that I really want to bring home, it is to give more value to our limited but very nutritious and safe home-grown, home-processed foods and integrate that much further in our growing tourism industry. While I want to very much improve the scientific capabilities of all aspects of our agriculture, I have started with the one that I felt is most important and that is the Soil and Plant Diagnostic laboratory. We need to know how, in the face of climate change and its effects, we can conserve our soil to grow healthy and nutritious fruits and vegetables and preserve our evergreen virgin forests. We need to use science to allow us to “go back to the future” by using the techniques and resources of yesterday-year much more effectively promoting organic and natural safe foods. These I hope will be a signature alongside our sun, sand and sea as an enticement to prospective visitors to our our shores.
The majority of visitors come to see and enjoy our gift from God and I commend all who spare no effort to preserve it. I want to complement that with more Seychelles-produced gastronomy that transforms some of the current farms into contractual entities able to mobilise and secure credit to meet their obligations to hotels and restaurants. I want the Seychellois and visitors alike to appreciate the limited but safe and tasty food items of paradise. I want Seychelles to be able to survive if the pirates of the Indian Ocean ever succeed in keeping the cargo vessels away from Port Victoria for a prolonged period.
Seychelles Life: You said recently that “We need to make sure that our youth is attracted back to the land.” How best can that be achieved?
Minister Sinon: We most definitely need to make agriculture much more attractive than we all have witnessed those past few years. This is being addressed in a significant manner by the rehabilitation of the Seychelles Agricultural and Horticultural Technical College. The Kuwait Development Fund has responded positively to our request for them to fund the project. But that is the first in a number of encouragement and incentives to be designed and put in place to have the youth interested in earning a living from the land.
There is an urgent need to revisit the stock of registered farmers and repossess agricultural land that is not being productive. The youth need reassurance that they have a chance to one day be in position to lease their own small farms and know that to keep them the farms must be productive. Support services in all aspects must be enhanced. This includes packaging and marketing of their products in specific outlets such as ISPC where restaurants and five-star hotels do most of their purchasing.
Going forward, food security and sovereignty are both going to inch increasingly higher on every country's national development agenda. Seychelles is not, and should not be, an exception.
Seychelles Life: China and Seychelles appear to be moving closer with their trade and diplomatic links? What other countries would you like to generate more trade with?
Minister Sinon: Personally for strategic reasons, I would like to see more effective and efficient regional trade where each of our respective strengths can further strengthen the region and help the individual countries focus and excel in their respective areas of competitive and comparative advantages. We need to overcome the traditional barriers and established cultures and trends to open up new avenues. These may be uncertain at inception but beneficial and much more robust once firmly established. Our relationship with China is a example of one that has witnessed its challenges but grown to be a significant mutually respectful relationship that transcends size and economic might.
Seychelles Life: What would you like to have regarded as a lasting legacy from your time in office?
Minister Sinon: I am not sure if that would qualify as a legacy but in both Fisheries and Agriculture the task has been to revive the sectors and like the Phoenix rise from the ashes! So with hindsight it is how successful the revival and the rise from the fall that will yield the fondest memories when I am gone.