Mauritius Food and Energy Resilience in a COVID Landscape

 

Proceedings of Charles Telfair Centre Launch Panel Discussion – 25th November 2020

 

A crowd of over 120 gathered on Wednesday 25th November to celebrate the launch of the Charles Telfair Centre – the new Charles Telfair Campus Think Tank initiative. To kick start our activities, we brought together a panel of experts and practitioners to share on the theme: Food and Energy Resilience in a COVID landscape. The crowd of guests included actors and decision-makers from the private sector, NGOs, parastatal bodies, academia as well as representatives of international development organisations. A first success for the Centre: bringing together in the same room the various social, economic and political actors of the country. It is through this diversity that the Centre ambitions to advance ideas and debates.

Jacqueline Sauzier, Secretary-General of the Mauritius Chamber of Agriculture, Mickaël Apaya, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Growth Manager at Business Mauritius and Jaime de Melo Emeritus Professor of the University of Geneva unpacked the achievements, challenges and ways forward for Mauritius in building greater food and energy resilience (see the fact sheet prepared by the Charles Telfair Centre on food and energy resilience in Mauritius).

 

Food Resilience in Mauritius – Jacqueline Sauzier

In 2019, Mauritius’ agriculture self-sufficiency was estimated to be around 30% with more than 70% of the country’s food imports in products for which the country had either no local production or that were used for agro-processing (detailed data is available on Jacqueline’s Sauzier’s presentation here). In 2019, Mauritius was 95% self-sufficient in meeting local vegetable consumption.

Jacqueline Sauzier presenting on Food resilience in Mauritius

Fruit and Vegetable Sector

Yet, the fruit and vegetable sector has been in decline for the last 10 years both in terms of area harvested and production volume, combined with what appears to be declining productivity (decline in volume produced per hectare harvested). With artisanal production practices dominating non-sugar vegetable and fruit crop, a lack of understanding of the respective roles of the multiple stakeholders within the value chain on the part of small planters (who represent 80% of fruit and vegetable production), uneven action and limited storage capacity, the sector exhibits inefficiencies in the production, storage and distribution of fruit and vegetable crop.

To build a more resilience fruit and vegetable sector, Jacqueline Sauzier argued for improved processes through proper planning, diversified varieties, innovative practices and value chain creation, together with, improved storage facilities to ensure that surplus production could substitute imports for fresh fruits and vegetables. She also called for consumers to be better informed on alternative food consumption habits towards healthier and locally sourced products.

Fruit and Vegetable Sector in Mauritius: key trends, challenges and recommendations for greater Resilience Source: Charles Telfair Centre adaptation of Jacqueline Sauzier, Charles Telfair Centre Launch Panel presentation, 25th November 2020

 

Sugar Sector

The presentation also probed the difficulties faced by the sugar sector since the dismantling of the sugar protocol and the associated loss of preferential pricing which was initiated in 2009 and took effect in 2015 following a six-year transition period. The last twenty have seen a steady decline in the production volume of cane and rising costs of inputs. In 2018 the sector made losses of more than MUR 1,500. Only Refineries and Independent Power Producers’ activities (such as biomass) were able to generate positive revenues.

Jacqueline Sauzier called for greater recognition of the importance of the sugar sector whose economic contribution would rise from 15% to 30% if indirect activities were accounted for. She highlighted the importance of initiatives to help its survival, notably by reducing labour costs through a revision of the current sugar labour agreement and the introduction work permits for seasonal migrant workers. Biomass being a subsector with great potential not just for the sugar sector but also in meeting the country’s energy transition goals and overall resilience, Jacqueline Sauzier suggested the implementation of the Biomass framework as presented in the 2019-20 budget.

Sugar Sector in Mauritius: key trends, challenges and recommendations for sustainability   Source: Charles Telfair Centre adaptation of Jacqueline Sauzier, Charles Telfair Centre Launch Panel presentation, 25th November 2020

 

For Jacqueline Sauzier, a more resilient food sector calls for strengthening local capacities, capabilities and efficiencies in the fruit and vegetable sector and new solutions to preserve the sugar industry notably through an improved Biomass framework. Her full presentation is accessible here.

Energy Resilience in Mauritius – Mickaël Apaya

Jacqueline Sauzier’s case for a Biomass framework was a great transition to Mickaël Apaya’s presentation on energy resilience in Mauritius. Presenting the Mauritius energy landscape, Mickaël Apaya exposed the country’s high import dependency (87.2%) in fossil fuel energy sources and the, hence, relatively small size of renewable energy source. Yet, by 2030, the country aims to have 40 per cent of its electricity produced by renewables compared to around 20% today. Currently, transport is the sector that consumes the most energy, but it is electricity that generates the largest CO2 emissions (59% of total Mauritius’ emissions).

Mickael Apaya presenting on Energy Resilience in Mauritius

Toward lower energy CO2 emissions and energy intensity of GDP

Using the KAYA equation, he called for a clearer roadmap to meeting our 40% target of renewable energy through both reduced energy CO2 emissions and reduced energy intensity of GDP.  To achieve these, he recommended an improved regulatory framework combined with a precise implementable Bioelectricity Strategy throughthrough the development of local biomass energy sources. He recommended, among other things, the decentralised management of production, i.e. the democratisation of production and consumption with smart micro-grid systems. Similarly, he called for energy sobriety (i.e. seeking economic solutions that consume less energy), better energy demand management towards greener consumption and production processes for individuals and industries, the promotion of carbon-light circular economies and favouring low-tech solutions.

For Mickaël Apaya, a more resilient energy sector in Mauritius implies a drastic transition to locally sourced renewable energies within a democratic strategy that involves everyone, from consumer to producer via regulators into a dialogue towards the development of a green long-term economic development plan. His full presentation is available here.

Source: Charles Telfair Centre adaptation of Mickael Apaya, Charles Telfair Centre Launch Panel presentation, 25th November 2020

 

Resilience beyond Self-sufficiency – Jaime de Melo 

Jaime de Melo reminded the audience that the country’s past resilience was built, among other things, on particularly favourable international trade terms, notably through the Sugar Protocol and the Multi-Fibre Agreement. The country also pursued efficient fiscal policies and established early on an export processing zone. These policies and favourable terms allowed Mauritius to accumulate rents which the country judiciously reinvested in developing new pillars such as Tourism, Textile, and later Global Business and Finance. Yet, the drop in sugar production and revenues, as displayed in Jacqueline Sauzier’s presentation, simply reflects the true or natural comparative advantage of Mauritius’ sugar sector. From an economist’s perspective, the data clearly suggests that Mauritius has lost some if its “competitive” advantage in raw sugar exports (and in textile and clothing) with the end of quotas and preferential pricing.

Jaime de Melo discussing avenues for greater resilience in Mauritius

Bioethical Food Products

Looking more closely at the Mauritius agricultural sector and its import dependency, Jaime de Melo argued that self-sufficiency should not be an end in itself for building resilience, especially for a globally dependent small-island economy like Mauritius. The country should resist temptation to protectionist measures against imports, , even temporarily, as these are difficult to remove later on. The real question for building food resilience in Mauritius, he argued, is whether we should rethink the production mix of the sector towards bioethical food products. Hence, a first step would be to measure the ecological footprint of the Mauritius agricultural sector and then explore policies that would help build competitive bioethical agricultural activities. Such a shift towards a more bioethical agricultural mix would be beneficial both on health grounds and for projecting an image of more sustainable tourism.

 

Mauritius Food and Energy Resilience as a globally dependent small-island economy; some avenues. Source: Charles Telfair Centre adaptation of Jaime de Melo, Charles Telfair Centre Launch Panel presentation, 25th November 2020

Renewable Energies: solar and wind

On the energy side, the transition towards renewable energy is key to building greater resilience in Mauritius, but the key question is how to get the societal support to decarbonise the economy and reach our CO2 emissions targets. Now that renewables, especially solar are becoming a cheaper source of energy, it is time to plan for a transition towards green energy. Guided by proper expertise, this should be cost-effective in Mauritius given its natural advantages.

For Jaime de Melo, greater resilience in energy and food system in Mauritius will be achieved by building a competitive bioethical agricultural sector and a competitive renewable energy sector. Fiscal incentives (tariffs on pesticides, carbon tax, green subsidies), energy resale network, among others, will be needed to achieve these goals. Because the transition away from fossil fuels takes time, a regulatory framework announcing the progressive shift away from fossil fuels along a pre-announced path is crucial.

 

Questions and answers with the audience

 

Questions raised during Q&A with panel and audience Source: Charles Telfair Centre transcription of questions and answers session, Charles Telfair Centre Launch Panel discussion, 25 November 2020.

New technologies?

During the Q&A, the audience highlighted the many remaining questions and issues pending. What explains our dependency on imports in products such as fish and fruits, and what can be done about it? What new technologies are available to support the development of smarter and greener agriculture? Jacqueline Sauzier noted that there are regional collaborations & collaboration with international experts to explore smart agricultural solutions, but she highlighted that these solutions have costs which at this stage would not make these products price competitive vis a vis imports. The question on how to bring these innovations and be cost-efficient remained unanswered.

A new generation of Agri-entrepreneurs?

Further questions were asked on how to motivate a new generation of young agri-entrepreneurs and move beyond the self-sufficiency argument towards the development of profitable activities for which self-sufficiency simply becomes a by-product.  Who can support agri-entrepreneurs in choosing its production mix? Who can guide them in how to export? What research is being undertaken to identify relevant crops for Mauritius?

Multi-stakeholders dialogue?

To the question of how to operationalise an efficient public/private dialogue for the application of effective policies and regulatory frameworks, there was a call for building competencies to bridge the dialogue between the private and public sector in the same way it was done during the sugar reform.  Some guests noted that private-public partnership had been a key component of Mauritius past success and thus needed to continue to be part of future solutions by also bringing into the discussion academia and civil society. Whether this dialogue should be led by the government or, others such as academia, was left as an open question.

Regional solutions?

Discussions on food security also pointed out that the issue is not one of local production but of affordability for which Mauritius has an advantage. Hence, the country could look for regional African sourcing/investments in agricultural products which may make more economic sense than self-sufficiency for a small island economy such as Mauritius.

Technical & Regional solutions to renewable energies?

On the energy front, questions were raised on the specific technical solutions to a successful energy transition. Mickaël Apaya highlighted the importance of making the right energy mix choice now because these require heavy investments that are not easily reversible.

It was also suggested that Mauritius together with other small States should make a case for subsidies on the global front in order to push the development of renewable energies.

Other pending questions from the discussions included: How to better manage our land? What future for the sugar and bagasse industry? What specific fiscal incentive mix?

Overall, there was a strong call from the audience to work on specific practical and operational solutions which would be adapted to a small island economy such as Mauritius.

All these questions are avenues for the Centre to explore in future articles and events. Our future work on food and energy resilience has been cut out.

The Panel answering questions from the public.

 

Main Photo by Singkham from Pexels

The Charles Telfair Centre is non-profit, independent and non-partisan, and takes no specific position. All opinions are those of the authors/contributors only.