The CSO has published the latest agricultural production and it revealed the following trends. In fact, the agricultural area harvested in Mauritius has decreased over the years, with more space being devoted to the booming real estate sector. Between 2009 and 2010, there has been a 3% decline in total harvested crop area, with a corresponding 6% fall in local food production. The contribution of agriculture to GDP hovered around 4% in the last three years compared to 6.9% in 2001. Furthermore, employment in the agricultural sector stagnated at 46,200 in 2008 and in 2009. Employment figures in large establishments in the agro-industry decreased by 5.3 % from 18,700 in 2008 to 17,700 in 2009. In 2010, total area of harvested sugar cane was 58,755 hectares, compared to 60,380 hectares in 2009; tea plantation went down from 713 hectares in 2009 to 698 hectares in 2010; the area harvested under food crops fell from 7,083 hectares in 2009 to 6,895 hectares in 2010. It is clearly seen that the downward trend in agriculture has continued last year. There is one positive note though: tobacco cultivation falling from 234 hectares to 210 hectares over 2009/2010 period should be welcomed.
According to the FAO, in recent years the growth rates of world agricultural production and crop yields have slowed down. This has raised fears that the world may not be able to grow enough food and other commodities to ensure that future populations are adequately fed. In addition, large chunks of fertile agricultural land worldwide are being used for the cultivation of crops meant for biofuel production. In Mauritius, we have also witnessed a dramatic fall in agricultural output due to several factors such as rising cost of production, reduction in cultivable land availability, poor climatic conditions and lack of interest in agriculture by the younger generation.
All these factors affect the price of fruits and vegetables in Mauritius in one way or another. Consumer choice around the world may be driven by taste and preference. But today in Mauritius, there is only one factor which is affecting consumers most, and that is price. Mauritius is already facing an alarming situation. In 2007, on average the total food requirement of the country was estimated at 686,000 tonnes annually, with a local production meeting only 23% of our consumption. With the increase in population in Mauritius and a changing consumption pattern, in addition to the feeding needs of the tourism industry, the total food requirement of Mauritius has increased exponentially. Local production can hardly keep pace and our import bill is surging. It is encouraging to note a slight increase in the production of local beef, goat meat and milk, given that lately there has been renewed interest towards farming and the sector seems to attract new players, small and large. But the fact remains that the import of these products accounts for more than 90% of our consumption. Poultry is one area where we are self-sufficient.
The Government of Mauritius has introduced measures to counter the increase in agricultural prices and fall in food production. Numerous strategic plans have been devised by the AREU and the Food Security Fund Committee. In his budget speech in 2008/2009, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development stated that the Government will put in place short term and medium term measures to improve agricultural outputs for Mauritius. Some of the measures include mobilizing land and aquatic resources, inputs for production, human resources, technology and financial resources in order to optimize food and livestock production locally for domestic consumption; promoting the exportation of food surpluses so as to capture the maximum gains from economies of scale; partner with countries of the region, such as Madagascar and Mozambique and such other countries where opportunities arise to produce food crops, livestock and marine products for domestic consumption as well as for regional markets; encouraging both public and private joint ventures with the support of regional blocks, including India and China; and undertaking a sensitization campaign to promote healthy eating.
Food security fund
The Government had earmarked Rs 1 billion for the Food Security Fund. Different schemes by the Ministry of Agro Industry have yielded positive results, thus encouraging the ministry to carry on with its strategy. This is a testimony of the high importance that Government is giving to the agro-industry in Mauritius. On the regional side, Mauritius has access to more than 120,000 hectares of farming land in Mozambique. An expression of interest from potential agricultural entrepreneurs was launched last year. The Board of Investment on its side is also making strenuous efforts to attract foreign investors to invest in the agribusiness sector. Several innovative projects have indeed seen the day in various fields such as hi-tech dairy farming, biofertilizer production, use of biotechnology in modern farming, organic farming for export, etc.
The agricultural sector provides numerous opportunities for budding entrepreneurs. Along with government facilities, banking institutions are also willing to finance agricultural projects. With a growing population and being a net importer of food, Mauritius has a long way to go to increase its self-sufficiency in food production. This is a very important and sensitive issue in particular since the very cause of social and political unrest in the Arab world stemmed from the onset of food crisis.