Sugar cane cultivation and agriculture


Return to :Economy Of Mauritius


The Importance of Sugar

The agricultural sector in Mauritius is very much dominated by sugar. The cultivation of sugar was introduced by the Dutch in the 17th century. Ever since, sugar and agriculture have been the backbone of the economy. Even today, in spite of tremendous efforts in industrialising and diversifying the economy, sugar remains an essential component. Though in terms of foreign earnings, it has been overtaken by both the export of wearing apparel and tourism, in terms of plus value and employment it is of the greatest importance. The importance of sugar and other agricultural activities to the island can be gauged by the simple fact that around 49% of the island is covered with sugarcane fields and about 1-2 % is for other diverse agricultural activities.

It is fair to say that revenues from the sugar industry have been instrumental in the development of the country. The near spectacular economic development of the country since the eighties or so would have been very difficult to achieve, if not impossible, had it not been for the regular sugar revenues obtained under the sugar protocol. However, there has been recent moves (in 2004) by the European Union to reduce the guaranteed price for sugar by up to 37% by 2007. Should that happen, the financial viability of the industry would be at stake with considerable repercussions on the local economy.

Note: All data in this file are from the Central Statistical Office publications’ unless mentioned otherwise.

Sugar Cultivation

In 2001, 76,478 hectares were under sugar cultivation, down from 76,962 in 2000. Roughly half of the area belongs to sugar millers and the other half to individual planters. The area harvested for sugar has declined steadily from 80,000 hectares (approximately) in 1982 to 73,197 in 2001. Note that the disprepancy between the two figures for 2001 for instance is because not every hectare under sugar cane cultivation is harvested every year. This long term decline in hectares harvested is due to urbanisation encroaching on agricultural lands. It is not a welcoming trend for a country like Mauritius which is a very small island importing most of its foodstuff.

Sugar Milling and Production

In the 60’s there were about 25 sugar factories, by 1990 it had dropped to 19, in 1995 there were 17 left and in 2001 there were only 16 still operating. This downward trend will continue because centralisation of sugar production in as few as four or five factories islandwide is one of the few means still available for the industry to maintain its viability. Sugar production, on the other hand, has maintained itself rather steadily over the years in spite of a reduction in surface area under cultivation and in the number of factories. This is due to the steady introduction into cultivation of new sugarcane cultivars made possible by the work of the Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute (MSIRI).

 

The 16 sugar mills process about 6,000,000 tons of sugar canes yearly, harvesting extends from June to December. The sugar cane harvest can vary from year to year depending on the prevailing climatic conditions. Severe cyclones or droughts (like in 1999) can drastically reduce both the harvest and the extraction rate of sugar from sugar canes.

Sugar Production and Exports

Year

Production (tonnes)

Exports (tonnes)

Earnings (Rs millions)

1991/92

611,300

567,000

5340.0

1992/93

643,200

599,800

5900.0

1993/94

565,000

526,200

5841.1

1994/95

500,200

470,300

5674.7

1995/96

539,500

535,500

6937.2

1996/97

588,500

584,900

8010.2

1997/98

620,100

616,500

8229.0

1998/99

628,500

624,900

9211.2

1999/00

373,300

373,300

5336.8

2000/01

569,300

569,000

7500.7

2001/02

645,600

618,800

9019.0

 

The sugar cane factories for 2000

Factory Area

Area Harvested (hectares)

Sugar Cane Production (tonnes)

Sugar Production (tonnes)

Belle Vue

10,152

566,156

64,730

Mon Loisir

5,857

318,317

34,711

Britannia

2,670

206,177

24,452

Mon Tresor / Mon Desert

3,240

265,604

30,504

Riche en Eau

3,721

323,007

35,576

Rose Belle

3,351

223,411

24,354

St Felix

3,176

180,135

19,296

Savannah

3,337

302,098

32,716

Union St Aubin

4,676

351,279

37,797

Beau Champ

9,248

679,436

75,371

Fuel

9,569

711,377

81,433

Medine

5,809

416,574

47,383

Highlands

3,277

228,146

25,532

Mon Desert Alma

4,971

337,803

35,435

Total Island

73,056

5,109,521

569,289


The main export market for mauritian sugar is the European Union under the Sugar Protocol. A fair amount goes to the US and a very small quantity is sold on the world market as shown in the following table.

Markets

1998/1999

1999/2000

2000/2001

2001/2002

 

Quantity

(Thousand tonnes)

European Union

601

370

559

592

United States

19

3

4

20

World Market

4

-

6

7

 

The Sugar Cane Industry and the Environment

The cultivation of sugar cane in Mauritius was made possible by the widespread clearing of forests in Mauritius during the 18th and 19th century. It is obvious that this widespread clearing caused many endemic species to become either extinct or very rare, to the brink of extinction. Together with population growth and urbanisation, the sugar cane industry has been responsible for the massive reduction in endemic forest cover of the island over the past centuries. It is estimated that less than 1% of the area of Mauritius is now covered with more or less intact endemic forests. It is to be noted that up to 30% of the island is forested mainly with exotic species like pine trees amongst others.

The sugar cane industry also is a very important user of agro-chemicals like fertilisers and herbicides. Interestingly enough no pesticides are used for the cultivation of sugar cane. The industry having adopted biological controls of pests instead. The sugar industry has emphatically denied that the use of agrochemicals in Mauritius has any significant environmental impacts. From the available research, though, it might be difficult to come to such a radical conclusion.

However, the processing of sugar canes in factories is a polluting activity due to effluents that are very high in organic contents and which, until recently, were discharged without any prior treatment into waterways that led directly to the sea and to lagoons. Due to pressure by Government which passed regulations concerning sugar cane factory effluents, the industry had to install treatment plants to reduce the pollution load from factories.

On a purely anecdotal level, the fishermen of Bel Ombre and St Felix (southern coast of Mauritius) reported increases in catch after the St Felix sugar cane factory closed a few years back. This could be indicative of the pollution load from sugar factories.

On a positive note, it is to be noted that given sugar cane is a fast growing grass, it offers good vegetative cover to the soil and so prevents soil erosion to occur massively. Thus after nearly three centuries of sugar cane cultivation, Mauritius is fortunate in that land degradation and soil erosion are not major problems and that salinisation of land is unknown. A testimony to the relatively good stewardship of land by sugar cane planters, big or small in Mauritius.

 

 

 

Local Press Review (in French mainly)

Sous-produits de la canne Sucre : "re-engineering" avec bagasse et éthanol (9 aout 2004)

Conjoncture et perspectives sur le Sucre (18 juillet 2004)

Menace sur le Protocol Sucre (14 juillet 2004)

ACP-EU Sugar protocol under pressure (13th July 2004)

Menaces sur le prix garanti (4 juillet 2004)

Faut-il avoir peur des OGM ? (7 mars 2004)

 

Web links:

The Polymer Group, http://vcampus.uom.ac.mu/sugar, a web site on sugar cane cultivation and the manufacture of sugar.

Public Relations Office of the Sugar Industry - Mauritius http://www.prosi.net.mu/prosi.htm 

 

References:

Central Statistical Office, Digest of Agricultural Statistics 2001  

Guy Rouillard, Historique de la Canne à Sucre a L’Ile Maurice 1639-1989, 1990

 

 

The URL of the web page is: http://www.intnet.mu/iels/sugar_mau.htm

 

Last Update: 11th December 2004

Date on the Web: Thursday, January 22, 1998