The Multifunctional Role of Agriculture in Mauritius
Despite its lesser importance in the economy, the agricultural sector in Mauritius, which is built around the sugar industry, still plays a vital role on the island, particularly as concerns the socio-economic development of rural areas, the sustainable management of natural resources and the protection of the environment. Hence, the role of agriculture in Mauritius goes beyond its primary function of supplying food and fibre.
Agricultural activities in Mauritius have fixed, through employment in such activities, nearly half of the population in rural areas. This has not only contributed to the development of a manufacturing industry in such regions but also prevented urban overpopulation. Moreover, the sector has had a positive fallout on the welfare of the rural population in terms of infrastructure development, education, facilities for housing, health, and recreational activities, to name but a few.
More : Agriculture and Sustainable rural development
SOURCE OF EMPLOYMENT
Although employment in the agricultural sector has declined significantly during the last two decades, the sector is still a major source of employment in the economy, with some 50,000 direct and indirect jobs. More importantly, there are about 27,000 small independent farm owners who are involved in sugar cane cultivation and foodcrop production and whose plot size, in most cases, does not exceed 1 hectare.
Agriculture represents one of the most efficient vectors for the protection and safeguard of the environment in Mauritius, the more so that the country, due to its insularity, has a fragile environment, which needs to be preserved at all costs. For instance, agriculture in Mauritius contributes to a significant extent to the preservation and embellishment of the physical environment. These are achieved through the permanent application of landscaping and soil conservation practices at field level.
It should be highlighted that the sugar industry has striven to adopt an environment-friendly approach. It has in this respect, made investement in the required equipment in order to comply with environmental norms and standards concerning noise, air, and water effluents at factory level.
Mention should be made of the active role played by the sugar industry in the country’s energy production from the combustion of bagasse, with consequent economic benefits to the industry itself and the country at large. It is noteworthy that the industry alone supplies 45 per cent of the electricity needs of the island. In addition to reducing the country’s reliance on imported fossil fuel, electricity from bagasse is a green and renewable source of energy with a limited impact on the environment.
SUSTAINABLE WATER MANAGEMENT
The sugar industry has also played, and is still playing, a key role in the development of the country’s water resources. It has contributed not only to the construction of additional water storage facilities, thus harnessing water resources which would have been otherwise lost to the sea, but also to the enhancement of water distribution network and irrigation systems, thereby contributing significantly to the improvement of water availability on the island. In that connection, it is worth mentioning that during the 1999 drought, the water resources of the sugar industry were redeployed to supply the industrial and tourism sectors and also some 160,000 households.