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Country profile - Mauritius

mauritius

Mauritius is a small, but densely populated, island situated in the Indian Ocean, about 800 kilometres east of Madagascar. The island consists of a series of volcanic hills with a fringing coastal plain. There are two seasons: a warm and wet summer and a cooler and dry winter. Since independence in 1968, Mauritius has become a middle-income country, with good governance* and a well regulated economy**. Ranked third in Africa by the UN's Human Development Index (behind the Seychelles and Libya), severe poverty is rare, yet price hikes, slumps in global food supply and climate change are significant risks that Mauritius faces as a net food importer.

Overview

About 40 per cent of the island's surface is being used for cultivation, of which roughly 90 per cent is sugar cane, the balance being tea, tobacco and food crops. Historically, sugar cane cultivation was the main agricultural activity in Mauritius. Following a cut in the European Union's guaranteed sugar price (leading to a fall in sugar prices by 36 per cent between 2005 and 2009), falling production levels and the global food price crisis, the Ministry of Agro-Industry and Food Security emphasised the need to diversify the agricultural sector.

Historically, sugar cane cultivation was the main agricultural activity in Mauritius (© Hansueli Krapf/flickr)
Historically, sugar cane cultivation was the main agricultural activity in Mauritius
© Hansueli Krapf/flickr

In 2010 the European Union earmarked €13 million to increase the competitiveness of the sugar industry. Increased mechanisation, improved yields, better management and the production of energy from bagasse (fibrous cane residue) have improved the industry. In 2011, the country produced 430,000 tonnes of sugar, showing a growth of 0.6 per cent compared to 2010. Different types of sugars are also being produced for the export market.

Relying on imports for 70 per cent of the country's food requirements, Mauritius is particularly vulnerable to rising global food prices. Since the 2008 global food price crisis, the government has been pushing the agriculture sector to boost food production to increase the country's self sufficiency. A reasonable level of success has already been achieved, with farmers producing almost 100 per cent of the country's needs in fresh vegetables, 60 per cent in potato and about one-third in onion.

Fruit production consists mainly of banana, pineapple, litchi and mango, and meets just under 50 per cent of the country's requirements. Livestock production is undertaken by about 3,500 people but only produces five per cent of requirements in meat and two per cent in milk. The government is working towards making the dairy sector more technological, upgrading small regional cow breeding cooperatives and attracting investment in animal feed production.

Mauritius relies on imports for 70% of the country's food requirements (© Miles Davis/flickr)
Mauritius relies on imports for 70% of the country's food requirements
© Miles Davis/flickr

Tuna, snapper and grouper are some of the most commercially valuable species of fish in Mauritius' waters. One of the major causes of poverty among coastal fishing communities is the depletion of marine resources. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), lagoons are at risk of being over-fished, octopus stocks have declined sharply and the methods of fishing for octopus are gradually destroying the reef. To relieve pressure on resources, the government has introduced a range of regulations. Coastal communities are also vulnerable to cyclones and rising sea levels.

Bracing for change

With rising sea levels, altered rainfall patterns and more intense storms, climate changes are threatening Mauritius' ecosystem and economy, as increasing pressure is placed on agricultural and aquatic resources. According to the Mauritius Meteorological Services, the number of consecutive dry days is increasing and while the number of rainy days is decreasing, heavy rainfall events (leading to flash floods) has increased, as has the frequency of extreme weather events, including storms of tropical cyclone strength.

Exacerbating these impacts are the inherent vulnerabilities of being a small island: limited land area, susceptibility to natural disasters, limited natural resources and sensitive ecosystems. Unsustainable practices, including sand mining leading to coastal erosion, and soil erosion are further compounding the situation. But environmental degradation, mainly as a result of deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices, is receiving growing recognition as a threat. The island was once covered by dense, tropical forest, however native forest cover is now approximately two per cent of its original extent.

Mauritius is threatened by rising sea levels (© Hansueli Krapf/flickr)
Mauritius is threatened by rising sea levels
© Hansueli Krapf/flickr

In 2010, a government division focusing on climate change was set up to implement the Africa Adaptation Programme (AAP). Under the AAP, a number of measures are being implemented to increase the resilience of communities and livelihoods to climate change, including planting mangroves and beach vegetation to protect the coast. The Programme has also trained representatives from various government ministries, the national meteorological agency and academia on climate analysis, supported the development of water storage and water harvesting strategies, and helped the government develop climate-resilient policies, including a set of 'green' taxes.

A sustainable future

The Ministry of Agro-Industry and Food Security, in their Blueprint for a Sustainable Diversified Agri Food Strategy, outline a number of measures to ensure food security, foreign exchange earnings, sustainable development and an improvement in the diet and health of the nation. The Strategy also calls on Mauritian consumers to take up kitchen gardening, eat more locally produced food and reduce food waste.

Mauritius' limited land area is a constraint to producing all of the country's food requirements (©FAO/H. Wagner)
Mauritius' limited land area is a constraint to producing all of the country's food requirements
©FAO/H. Wagner

Mauritius' limited land area is a constraint to producing all of the country's food requirements. To meet local requirements for onion by 2015, for example, levels of production would need to increase three-fold. As a result, one of the government's strategies is to cooperate with countries in the region where opportunities arise to produce food crops, livestock and marine products for domestic consumption, as well as for regional markets. As part of this, investment opportunities for agricultural production in Mozambique to produce rice, maize, pulses, potatoes and onions are being sought.

Europe is currently the destination for about 60 per cent of the country's exports. According to African Economic Outlook, the country's GDP growth rate remained strong in 2011 at about four per cent, but the uncertainty of the global economic environment, particularly in Europe, threatens future economic growth. To improve trade and foreign exchange earnings, the government has been working to boost trade with traditional markets in Europe and the USA, as well as emerging markets in India, China and Africa, especially for sugar, fruits, vegetables, seafood and tourism.

* Ranked top of the 2011 Ibrahim Index of African Governance
** Ranked as the best place to do business in sub-Saharan Africa by the 2012 Doing Business Report

Statistical information
  • Country: Republic of Mauritius
  • Capital: Port Louis
  • Area: 2,040 sq km
  • Population: 1,313,095 (2012 est.)
  • Population growth rate: 0.7% (2012 est.)
  • Life expectancy: 75 (2012 est.)
  • Ethnic groups: Indo-Mauritian 68%, Creole 27%, Sino-Mauritian 3%, Franco-Mauritian 2%
  • Languages: Creole 80.5%, Bhojpuri 12.1%, French 3.4%, English (official; spoken by less than 1% of the population), other 3.7%, unspecified 0.3%
  • Inflation: 6.5% (2011 est.)
  • GDP purchasing power parity: US$19.52 billion (2011 est.)
  • GDP per capita: US$15,100 (2011 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 4.5%; industry: 24%; services: 71.4% (2011 est.)
  • Land use: arable land: 49.02%; permanent crops: 2.94%; other: 48.04% (2005)
  • Major industries: food processing (largely sugar milling), textiles, clothing, mining, chemicals, metal products, transport equipment, nonelectrical machinery, tourism
  • Agricultural products: sugarcane, tea, corn, potatoes, bananas, pulses; cattle, goats; fish
  • Natural resources: arable land, fish
  • Export commodities: clothing and textiles, sugar, cut flowers, molasses, fish
  • Export partners: UK 19.7%, France 17.1%, US 11.5%, Italy 8.8%, South Africa 7.3%, Spain 6.8%, Madagascar 6.5% (2011)

Date published: October 2012

 

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