Direct employment in the agricultural sector (comprising large and small establishments) stood at 9.3 per cent of total employment in 2006 (around 48,100 persons) as compared to 29 per cent in 1980. The sugar sector represented 3.5 per cent of total employment (around 19,000 workers) and 38 per cent of total agricultural employment. The tea sector represented 2.3 per cent of agricultural employment and the expanding fishing sector, 10.6 per cent.
It is worth mentioning that employment in the sugar sector has decreased substantially with the introduction of a Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) in 2001, which has led to some 7,800 workers adopting the scheme. In addition, about 7,000 workers left the industry in 2007 under the VRS II, the Early Retirement Scheme and the Blue Print of the sugar industry.
Moreover, about 26,000 small planters, who are self-employed and operate on a part-time basis, are for the most part, involved in sugarcane cultivation and in the production of fresh vegetables. In most cases, their plot size does not exceed two hectares.
Sugar cane cultivation
Sugar cane cultivation remains the main component of the agricultural sector. In 2006, cane plantations occupied 70,801 hectares, representing about 38 per cent of the island’s total area (186,000 hectares) and 88 per cent of the cultivated area (80,000 hectares, excluding forests), the remaining 12 per cent being under tea cultivation (1 per cent) and other crops (11 per cent). Over the past two decades, the area under cane cultivation has been constantly declining, from about 85,000 hectares in 1980 to its current figure.
With the modernization and restructuring process of the sugar industry, the number of sugar milling factories will be further reduced to only four after 2010, compared to seven as at end 2007. In 2006, about 43 percent (30,500 ha) of the area under cane cultivation belonged to miller-planters, producing 52 percent of total sugar, while planters and metayers owned the remaining percentage (40,000 ha) and produced 48 percent of total sugar. The number of planters and metayers amounted to 26,000 with 33 percent owning less than 2 ha and 37 percent owning more than 200 ha.
Co-products of the sugar industry
With a view to maximising revenue for the Mauritian sugar industry and adding value to its products, a diversification program within the sector has been adopted during the past three decades concerning the optimal use of sugar and its co-products, mainly electricity from bagasse, molasses which is used to produce alcohol, perfumes, liquors and spirits (“rhum agricole”), special sugars and ethanol. However, the production of raw sugar for refining on export markets has remained up to now the focal activity of the sugar industry and is of utmost importance for its viability.
It is to be noted that the Multi Annual Adaptation Strategy – Action Plan 2006-2015 for the sugar industry puts special emphasis on co-products with a view to transforming the sector into a more cost-efficient and competitive sugar cane cluster, which will be geared towards the production of raw, white, industrial and special sugars, electricity from bagasse/coal and ethanol from molasses.
Non sugar agriculture
The concept of agricultural diversification has known a limited success in Mauritius due to the island’s inherent constraints, namely pressure on land and on other natural resources, generally unfavourable agronomic and climatic conditions and the limited range of crops which can be grown on a sufficiently large scale to be economically viable.
The non-sugar sector consists mainly of the production of a wide range of fresh vegetables (75,000 tonnes/year) and other foodcrops (30,000 tonnes/year), of poultry meat (25,000 tonnes/year), and of tropical fruits (20,000 tonnes/year), destined essentially for the local market. Production of tea and tobacco are presently negligible. In addition to poultry farming, the meat sector includes also deer rearing (450 tonnes/year), cattle farming (300 tonnes/year), fresh milk production (3,5 million litres) and goat & sheep and pig rearing (100 and 850 tonnes/year respectively).
In spite of the fact that Mauritius is a net food importing country, it has nonetheless been able to attain self-sufficiency in some sub sectors, such as the production of fresh vegetables, of poultry meat and of eggs (120 millions units/year).
Mauritius is a single commodity exporter. Indeed, sugar is the principal commodity to be exported, representing in value terms, 63 per cent of total agricultural exports, 23.7 percent of total domestic exports and 16.4 per cent of total export earnings in 2006. Other agricultural exports include cut flowers and foliages, mainly anthurium, and small volumes of tropical fruits such as pineapples (700 tonnes in 2006) and litchis (200 tonnes in 2007) to France principally.
Being a net food importing developing country, Mauritius imports most of its basic food commodities like wheat, rice, pulses, bovine meat, milk and edible oil. Over the past three decades, a number of agro-processing industries have thrived steadily by transforming mostly imported raw materials. The primary objective of such enterprises is to supply the local market but some of them are now also exporting small volumes of their production to neighboring countries. Tuna canning is the only activity geared towards export.