The mission of any elected or appointed public official in Government, in the Judiciary or the Legislative is to serve the people that have enabled them to rise to a position of power. Their duty is to first and foremost serve the people of that nation.
Peter Sinon, Minister for Natural Resources is a member of President James Michel’s Cabinet of the tropical Republic of Seychelles. The two portfolios that he holds are the ‘Agricultural’ and ‘Fisheries’ sectors. He has a bold agenda and a tough road ahead to navigate in an ever more open and competitive global arena. He will need to uphold the national interests for the continued production of safe, nutritious local food products on the breakfast, lunch and dinner tables of homes, hotels and restaurants and why not on the distant tables through exports.
The Agriculture & Fisheries brief
Minister Sinon, has the daunting challenge to revive a very depressed agricultural sector and grow the extensive potentials of the fisheries sector. The latter is a key component of what the Seychelles has dubbed as its ‘Blue Economy’. With an Exclusive Economic Zone of approximately 1.3 million square kilometers of one of the cleanest oceans on the planet. This compares to a landmass of 445 square kilometers, made up of 116 islands and islets situated in the Western Indian Ocean, between 4 and 6 degrees South of the equator. Seychelles is best known for its pristine environment and idyllic beaches that has made it the tourism paradise that it is today.
In fulfilling his mission, the Minister’s main objective is to increase the local food security and food sovereignty for the Seychelles archipelago. The former will ensure that the remote and isolated islands, which have recently lived through the effects of intense piracy activities, severely threatening supply routes, enhancing food security has become an imperative that can no longer be ignored.
Capital of the Creole World
Seychelles claims itself to be the Capital of the Creole world. It preserves, promotes and showcases its local, tasteful and interesting Kreol gastronomy which originates mainly from local products, utilising the treasured mixing melting pot of cultures that coalesce to produce one of the most spicy and tasteful cuisines. The Minister’s mission extends beyond a goal to revive and increase local safe and nutritious food production for the market. As he puts it, it is also a mission to “take a step back to the future” by returning to organic and healthy foods that our forefathers and mothers had no choice but to cultivate as their only means of survival.
The devotion of previous generations and the providence of a tropical climate and limited landmass did provide the population enough food during the two world wars when visits of any ship from distant markets was an infrequent luxury. Yet, our elders had very much less cardiovascular diseases and health problems, such as obesity, cancers, diabetes and others, which we face today.
Background in Investment, Development, and Growth
A native of Seychelles, Mr. Sinon studied Development Economics at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. He holds two degrees from the research-intensive public university. First he earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1990, and followed that up with a Master of Arts in 1994 before returning to Seychelles.
His initial employ in Seychelles was in the Planning Department where he rose from Economist to the Director General of the Department of Economic Planning, before being nominated to serve as the first Seychelles High Commissioner to South Africa and the Republic of Namibia. Following those governmental roles, he spent six years in Tunis working with the African Development Bank (AfDB), a multilateral development finance institution where he held the post of Alternate Executive Director (first three years) and Executive Director between 2007 and 2010. Over the course of his six years at the AfDB, Mr. Sinon served as the Advisor and Executive Director for Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania, and Uganda.
The role of the AfDB is to contribute to and encourage economic development and social progress throughout the African continent. Through a variety of public and private capital investment projects, the AfDB aims to fight poverty and improve social conditions across all the nations of Africa. This is very much aligned to ‘Development’. Minister Sinon’s degree courses selections of ‘Development Studies’ for his first degree and ‘Development Economics’ for his Masters prepared him well for his future working career.
Mr. Sinon believes the bank has been meeting its goals and remains on track to continuing promoting development across the continent. Among the major achievements of the AfDB during his tenure, and one he is most proud of, was the bank’s ability to earn a coveted “triple A” rating from Capital Markets. This enabled it to navigate and emerge intact through the global financial crisis and continue to serve its member states.
Return to Seychelles
Following his successful stint as an Executive Director with AfDB, Mr. Sinon was appointed to the cabinet position of Minister for Investment, Natural Resources, and Industry in July 2010. Minister Sinon had to hit the ground running in his new position, replacing the outgoing Minister Joel Morgan who was taking over leadership duties in the newly created Ministry of Home Affairs.
Under his predecessor, the Ministry had been heavily involved in the fight against piracy and illegal fishing in Seychelles’ territorial waters. Agriculture, however, suffered its worst ever downfall with the reforms that opened the markets to cheaper imports which resulted in the closure of many local farms and a substantial decrease in local production. From day one, Mr. Sinon stressed the importance of the need to re-start from the ashes and revive a sector that had to take cognizance of and appreciate the significant shift in the rules of the game. The primary challenges were to identify all comparative and competitive advantages in the two food producing sectors that could be built upon in a much more competitive and open world market economy. The task of enhancing productivity and expanding the fisheries industry was more straight forward. It was in land based agriculture that the most challenges are still ever so much more daunting. There was already a fresh fish supply, existing standards, open markets, and processing and packaging plants.
Long Road Ahead
As the Minister of Natural Resources, Mr. Sinon’s objectives and goals must be looked at on a long-term scale rather than a “what can happen tomorrow” standpoint. Mr. Sinon has focused on the need to reform and revitalize the agriculture and fishing sectors not just in Seychelles, but within all member states in the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States).
Shortly after taking over as Minister, Mr. Sinon gave the opening speech at an ACP fisheries workshop hosted in Seychelles. In his remarks, Mr. Sinon stated the need to review, re-assess, and, if necessary reconsider policies and strategies, given the changed operating environment. He highlighted the importance of the Fisheries Partnership Agreements between ACP members and the European Union (EU). He focused particularly in the area of international collaboration, to deal with threats such as piracy and Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. He also pressed the point for the need to ensure a more effective mechanism to include in the decision making process to provide order, inclusivity and sustainability in the sector.
Fast forward to 2013, and Mr. Sinon has lived up to his opening remarks. In the summer of 2013, the first round of renegotiations between Seychelles and the EU regarding fisheries agreements was completed. Following the piracy and illegal fishing problems that began around 2007, foreign vessels began fleeing the waters around Seychelles. An intensive inter-Ministerial campaign and coordination involving international partners with initiatives such as the Fish–I to combat IUU rendered encouraging and positive results.
Since 2011 there have been no tragic incidents of piracy in the region and the successful renegotiations with the EU was a catalyst to encourage investors and foreign vessels to return to Seychelles. To that end, the Ministry has been part of the drive to reinvest in the ports in and around Port Victoria.
As a result, a massive redevelopment plan is underway for Port Victoria to increase its capacity, both in terms of the number of boats it can handle and the volume of catch it can store and process. There is also an increasing number of foreign vessels seeking licenses in Seychelles. This is encouraging but, Mr. Sinon believes that the true challenge and determining factor in the success of the port redevelopment lies in its ability to diversify and increase Port Victoria’s ability to process and add value to much more of its landed catch.
The Fruits & Vegetables market
His Ministry is also developing the relationship between agriculture and tourism in order to promote the products and services of Seychelles in the global economy. Seychelles has the ability to promote much more of its own fruits and vegetables and are of a standard to enable them to penetrate the lucrative 5 star tourism hotels. Seychelles farmers, who were once shielded from undertaking any marketing tasks, are now becoming conscious of the fact that the Seychelles Marketing Board is no longer in existence. Identifying gaps in the local food marketing products, ensuring quality and consistency are of paramount and critical importance. A change in the mindsets of both producers and consumers on the availability and virtues of local organic products and a much more active marketing are desirable and being worked on by the Ministry and partners.
For Mr. Sinon the end-game is to continue protecting Seychelles’ fish stocks and make it a more efficient operator. He is already seeking a more sustainable and durable mechanism for allocating tuna stocks. Several meetings have taken place to institute such a policy among members of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC).
In land-based agriculture, above all else, Mr. Sinon hopes to help the country improve its food self sufficiency, security and sovereignty and become more independent. He accepts that it is impossible for the country to become totally self-sufficient, but, he feels it’s his and his team’s duty to ensure that Seychelles significantly improves its food security and food sovereignty.
Perhaps most important, Minister Sinon has placed a critical emphasis on the need to motivate young Seychellois to take a fresh look at the career possibilities in those two sectors, – agriculture and fisheries. His determination has seen the Seychelles Fisheries Authority make available to the School of Maritime studies a brand new fishing vessel to make it possible for the students to have practical experiences. He also secured a concessional loan for the rehabilitation and extension of the withering Seychelles Agriculture & Horticulture Technical Centre (SAHTC).
The Minister believes that the task of changing mindsets and future direction should start at the school level. THe wishes to instil a renewed sense of confidence in the country’s agriculture and fisheries. The Ministry, has, under his direction led the charge in changing the perception of these sectors, brought back quintessential partners like the AfDB, IFAD, FAO, NEPAD, IAEA, UNDP/GEF to improve the technology used in these fields, and draw younger generations of Seychellois back to the land and sea.
His success will be determined in the future succeeding generations place healthy and nutritious food on the tables of their countrymen produced by sustainable means. A Herculean task – especially when the basic infrastructure and technical human resources are lacking. Mr. Sinon is a man most likely to ensure the desired outcome.