The sugarcane plant was introduced in Mauritius in 1639 by the Dutch colonizers to produce artisanal rum. The first sugar mill was set up at Villebague in 1745. Subsequent colonial powers (France and then Great Britain) used the slave trade and the indentured labor system to expand and consolidate the industry. At its peak, there were 259 sugar mills in 1838 in Mauritius.
Sugar has been traded under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement since 1951 and under the Sugar Protocol since 1975. Mauritius has made constant efforts to improve and maintain the economic viability of this industry which has been the very lifeblood of its economy.
To benefit from economies of scale, sugar mills have regrouped and modernized. Today, there are 11 sugar factories with an estimated production of 575,000 tons of sugar annually. 10 of these factories use bagasse or bagasse and coal to produce electricity, which is sold under contractual arrangements to the Central Electricity Board. As part of Government policy to broaden ownership in the sugar industry, small planters and employees hold 20% of the share in milling companies, as well as holding a stake (10%-20%) in cogeneration plants, through the Sugar Investment Trust (SIT).
The corporate sector of the industry has played a major part over the years to rationalize and modernize sugar activities in Mauritius. Growing companies have made substantial investments in factory centralization, in field operations through derocking, land preparation and mechanized harvesting in order to increase overall productivity and efficiency.
In order to bring down labor costs, which stood well above 50% of production costs, a Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) was introduced in 2001 and some 8200 employees of the sugar industry opted for voluntary retirement. The benefits guaranteed to such employees are 300 m2 of land and a cash compensation of 2 months’ salary per year of service for male agricultural workers who are 55 years and above and female agricultural workers who are 50 years and above.
There are four categories of cane producers in Mauritius: the corporate sector and the very large planters accounting for some 70% of production; the medium and large planters representing some 5% of production; the small planters accounting for some 23% of production and the métayers accounting for some 2% of production The latter generally grow canes in difficult and low yielding regions which are also environmentally sensitive, i.e. “the difficult areas”. The small planters own land which is generally lower yielding than those of the corporate sector.
The challenge for the corporate sector is to maintain efforts to improve yields through mechanization/irrigation, to reduce both production and management costs and to invest in co-products. As regards the small planters and métayers, there is a strong need to improve yield through intensive land preparation, derocking and irrigation.
Last Updated on: 20-04-2010