ReVision 2020

A National Strategy for Sustainable Mauritius

Foreword by the Governor

Introduction
Retro-Vision 2020
Defining success
Our place in history
Our place in the world
Making diversity a strength
A new legal framework
Renewing democracy
Fair taxation
Sustainable development
Recognising our natural resources
Preserving our beaches
Restoring our reefs
Reinventing tourism
Leisure and re-creation
Zoological society
Exploring our ocean
Fishing forever
Nutritional security
Saving our soils
Educational revolution
Healthy balance
Eliminating poverty
Redevelopment and rewilding
Transport today and tomorrow
Energy strategy
Fuelling the future
Energy roadmap
Waste not, want not
Science and research
Hand made in Mauritius
Serving others
Chagos and UNESCO

A Brief History

Origins – a unique paradise

The island of Mauritius was formed some 12 million years ago due to volcanic activity on the submerged Mascarenes plateau. Isolated from mainland Africa, the flora and fauna that found its way to the island evolved into numerous unique species. With lush vegetation, dense ebony forests and no mammals except bats, it was paradise for the giant tortoises, dodos and other birds that were its primary inhabitants.

First discoverers (before 1500)

The island was known to Arabian sailors a thousand years ago and may even have been discovered by ancient Phoenician seafarers as early as the 5th century BC. The first Europeans to discover the island were the Portuguese in 1500 who laid claim to the island. It later passed into Spanish possession, but it wasn’t until the Dutch landed in 1598 that Mauritius’ treasures were exploited.

Rape by the Dutch (1598-1710)

It was in honour of Prince Maurice of Nassau, the President of the Dutch Republic, that Mauritius gained its current name. The Dutch East India Company initially used the island as a stopover to and from India via the southern tip of Africa. In 1638 the first colonists arrived and introduced the first slaves in 1645 from Madagascar. The island was briefly abandoned in 1658 after the Dutch had depleted the island of its valuable ebony forests.

The Dutch returned in 1664 and by 1670 the dodo was on the verge of extinction. They also massacred tortoises, turtles and sea-cows in huge numbers. In 1710 the Dutch finally abandoned the island, but already the original virgin paradise was lost forever.

A Strategic Base for the French (1715-1810)

The French took possession of Mauritius in 1715, named it Isle de France and began to settle here in 1721. Before that time, the Mauritius continued to be a stopover for pirates preying on the trade between Europe and the orient. Many treasure hunters have since scoured the island for the fortunes supposedly buried here.

Under the administration of the French East India Company, the foundation of the current multi-ethnic population was laid with the introduction of European colonists and slaves from Madagascar, Africa and India. Unlike the Dutch, the French colonisation was successful, if difficult, but marred by the brutal treatment of the slaves who frequently escaped, formed groups and attacked the colonists.

The French aim was to use Isle de France as a military and supply base to challenge British supremacy in the Indian Ocean. However, it wasn’t until the arrival of the Mahé de la Bourdonnais in 1735 that this goal was to be realised. The most successful Governor the island has ever known, he also encouraged entrepreneurship, finally brought prosperity to the beleaguered colony with the importation of thousands of slaves and transformed Port Louis from a small camp into a thriving capital. He had greater visions for the island, but the company was not prepared to make the necessary investments. Soon afterwards, pidgin French – the lingua franca of the French slave trade – was adopted as the first language of the offspring of slaves and a Creole population, often of mixed ancestry, emerged.

In 1767 the company went bankrupt and the royal government took control of Isle de France with Pierre Poivre heading the administration. He conscientiously tried to protect natural resources by limiting hunting, fishing and deforestation, and created the famous Jardin des Pamplemousses to preserve endangered species and propagate commercial ones. Unhappy with the practice of slavery, he was powerless to stop it and instead sought end the ill-treatment of slaves.

From 1767 to 1807, the white population of the island doubled whereas the number of slaves more than quadrupled to 65,000 such that they outnumbered their masters 10 to 1. This was despite frequent wars between Britain and France that limited the slave trade. The free-coloured population also out-grew the whites and finally outnumbered them in 1808. Isle de France became a significant military staging post and supplied troops for the war in India. However, the French were
unable to secure a decisive victory over the British in contrast to achievements while assisting the Americans in their War of Independence from 1778 to 1783. However, greater success – and profits – were gained by attacking British merchant ships in the Indian Ocean.

The French Revolution

Free trade and its strategic position made Isle de France prosperous and one of France’s most treasured colonies. However, the re-creation of a French East India Company with a foreign trade monopoly in 1785 greatly antagonised the rich white islanders. They took the start of the French Revolution in 1789 as an opportunity for self-rule and instituted an elected Colonial Assembly. Only white males were allowed to vote.

Unfortunately, the French Revolution, which produced the famous Declaration of Human Rights in 1789, was out of control by 1793 and its original leaders, along with thousands of aristocrats and intellectuals, were put to death at the hands of the extreme left. However, in 1794, France did live up to its motto of “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” and finally abolished slavery. Concurrently, there was a split between the ruling whites in Isle de France: those whites in favour of radical change towards egalitarianism and those seeking to preserve the status quo. The latter gained the upper hand; the former were deported. Isle de France became effectively autonomous as it attempted to preserve slavery.

In 1802, under the rule of Napoléon Bonaparte, France once more legalised slavery and the slave trade and institutionalised racism. This was welcomed by the ruling whites of Isle de France to the detriment of the free-coloureds who lost few rights they had gained during the Revolution and suffered greater discrimination as did, to a lesser extent, the class of under-privileged whites. However, repression by the ruling whites had always prevented these under-privileged classes from joining the slaves in the mass rebellions that resulted in blood baths in other colonies.

In 1803, the Colonial Assembly was disbanded and replaced by direct French rule. The coloureds suffered greater discrimination, even their richer members, who, as slave-owners themselves, had supported the ruling whites. Soon the rich whites began to loathe the new regime as it imposed heavy taxes and extracted loans from them to build defences against British invasion. Whereas it had been hoped that Isle de France would be a staging post for the conquest of India, the Napoleonic wars in Europe diverted France’s attention and military resources.

The Start of British Rule and the End of Slavery? (1810)

The British frequently raided the island and in 1810 finally engaged the French navy in a significant sea battle in Vieux Grand Port in the south. The five French ships, with support from shore, defeated the four British ones after a day of intense fighting. This rare naval victory is immortalised on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Six months later, the British returned with a significant land and sea force and successfully took Isle de France, restoring its Dutch name, Mauritius. Many of the rich whites refrained from defending their country. Their reward was an agreement that the British would permit them to maintain economic control of the country as well as their laws and customs. Unfortunately this included slavery even though it was banned under British law. The slave-owners used economic blackmail and bribery to maintain the status quo.

In 1814, Governor Farquhar proclaimed the abolition of the slave trade in Mauritius. However, slavery remained and new slaves were still smuggled into the country to try to maintain their declining numbers, despite efforts to replace them with the introduction of machinery. He also defied the British government by allowing the island to trade freely instead of exclusively with Britain and so the economy continued to flourish.

From Slavery to Slavery – Indentured Labour

By 1825, the shrinking and ageing slave population was being supplemented by indentured workers from India and China. However, the first group, believing that they had been recruited under false pretences, rebelled against their cruel conditions and poor pay and were sent home. In 1826, a British inquiry into the slavery and racism by the dominant Franco-Mauritians against free-coloureds began. They in turn set up a parallel government and even managed to woo the coloured bourgeoisie, often slave-owners themselves, against the abolition of slavery.

In 1829 the post of Protector of Slaves was established to enforce their better treatment and Mauritius’ system of apartheid was officially abolished, though its practice continued for several years. Although the Franco-Mauritians fought it to the very end, slavery was finally abolished in 1835 but it wasn’t until 1839 that the emancipated slaves were free to leave the plantations. This they did in huge numbers, some to form villages and farm their own plots of land or fish, others to sink into dire poverty. No such fate awaited the slave-owners who were generously compensated for their loss by the British government.

The loss of the ex-slaves and the opportunity to expand the sugar plantations created an extreme shortage of labour that set costs soaring. To reduce wages to an absolute minimum and hence maximise profits, the plantation owners sought to flood the market with cheap labour from India. At the time many Indian’s suffered poverty under British administration and were happy to seek their fortune elsewhere. However, the immigration of coolies to Mauritius had many of the characteristics of the slave trade it replaced and was actually cheaper, indenture being a sort of voluntary slavery for a fixed period of time.

A momentous transformation in the population resulted. By 1861, the number of Indian immigrants outnumbered the white and coloured Mauritians by 192,634 to 117,416. However, as contracted labour, the coolies did not enjoy the same rights as the original population. Ironically, some even became servants of emancipated negro slaves. At the end of their contracts, many sought to and were encouraged to stay, started their own businesses and tried to climb the social strata.

In 1867, under the influence of the plantation owners, laws were passed which deteriorated the already inferior rights of the immigrants. For example, their travel within the island was restricted and they were required to carry passports with immediate detention if they were lost or left at home. To its shame Mauritius became an authoritarian police state with prison sentences for immigrants convicted of the most innocuous of crimes. It wasn’t until 1911 that indentured labour was effectively stopped by India, although a sugar boom in 1923 brought 1500 workers, but most went home within 3 years.

The First Steps to Democracy

The 1800s also saw many developments in Mauritius, supported by the wealth generated by the sugar industry. The Royal College, a world class educational establishment, produced many excellent scholars. Augmented by brilliant minds from Europe, Mauritius implemented all of the latest innovations of the day including the stamp-based postage system, telegraphy, cinemas, steam-power, railways and electricity generation.

In parallel, Mauritians, in particular the wealthy class, were demanding a greater say in the rule of their country. Ironically the poor too were mobilised when the government attempted to acquire lands to preserve the vanishing forests, protect species on the verge of extinction and safeguard water resources that were becoming contaminated and contributed to several significant epidemics.

Finally, in 1886, multi-party democracy began with the institution of parliamentary elections for 10 of the 27 members of the Council of Government. Only a few per cent of the population had the right to vote; immigrants, the poor and agricultural workers were excluded, even though in Britain the latter group had gained the right to vote in 1884. However, it would only be a matter of time before the numerically superior Indian population would rest political power from the wealthy minority as exhorted by Ghandi when he visited Mauritius on route from South Africa to India in 1901.

Then as now, Mauritius was stratified by ethnicity and class. The allegiance that dominated depended on the social, political or economic imperative of the day. Racism and apartheid, however, continued unabated as unwritten laws until the world-wide social revolutions of the 1960s and the radical reform of the Catholic Church which finally ended segregation in the pews.

Politically, the first two decades of the 1900s saw great men champion the cause of the unrepresented majority of the Mauritian population. Most were defeated and disillusioned in elections dominated by the Franco-Mauritians. During this time the number of Indo-Mauritians eligible to vote actually decreased, probably due to corrupt practices of the predominantly white magistrates.

The End of Franco-Mauritian Political Domination (1948)

The Great Depression of the 1930s led to severe deprivation among the working classes who were mobilised by the newly formed Labour party and the religious Bissoondoyal brothers. Strikes were organised on the sugar estates and the docks, paralysing the economy but were violently suppressed causing outrage in Mauritius and Britain. Subsequent reforms including a minimum wage for workers were largely disregarded by the sugar barons and strikes continued into the following decade.

During the 1940s the trend for colonies to demand self-rule was gaining momentum, with India gaining independence in 1947. In Mauritius, constitutional reform was debated from 1945-47 and finally in the 1948 elections any Mauritian resident over 21 who could read and write became eligible to vote. Thanks in large part to the mass education of Indo-Mauritians by the Bissoondoyal brothers, the total number of electors jumped from 12,000 to over 70,000. As a result, 17 of the 19 elected members of the Legislative Council were aligned to the Labour party. Together with the liberals, they enjoyed a majority despite the large number of nominated members appointed by the previous administration to make up the total of 34. This spelt the end of the political domination of the Franco-Mauritians who had to content themselves with control of the sugar industry.

The Road to Independence (1948-1968)

The next major step was independence. However, politics shifted from a class struggle to an ethnic one, fuelled in part by the fanatical racism of the editor in chief of a Franco-Mauritian newspaper. Independence, favoured by the British and the Labour party under the leadership of Dr Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, was greatly delayed by a united front of the ethnic minorities headed by Gaetan Duval, concerned by the possibility of future domination by the majority Hindus. After 20
years, compromise was finally reached whereby a new legislative assembly comprising of 62 elected members and 8 “best losers” was adopted; the latter being drawn from under-represented ethnic minorities.

Following the 1967 elections, Dr S Ramgoolam led the country on 12th March 1968 into nationhood. Gaetan Duval aligned his party with Labour and nation building became the order of the day.

The Economic Rollercoaster (1968 onwards)

Masterful negotiations obtained fixed quotas at preferential prices for sugar from the European Union and a similar deal for textiles with the United States as Mauritius strove to diversify its economy with the assistance and example of the East Asian Tigers like Taiwan. At the same time the tourist industry started its major expansion, accelerated by the establishment of Air Mauritius.

Meanwhile, the political vacuum and the escalation of the Cold War led to the emergence of a movement of Marxists led by Paul Bérenger. Mauritius may well have followed the example of the Seychelles and Madagascar to become a Marxist state but for the economic boom of the early 70s. However, it turned to near economic disaster by 1979 due to wage rises, strikes and cyclones. Bérenger’s MMM party obtained a landslide victory in the 1982 elections with Anerood Jugnauth becoming Prime Minister. He had joined the MMM while Bérenger was briefly imprisoned and subsequently moderated the party’s policies.

Within a few months, Bérenger and Jugnauth fell out. The former resigned from government and called new elections. The latter formed a new party, the MSM, and a coalition with Ramgoolam and Duval and won. By vigorously attracting new investment from overseas, the “Mauritian economic miracle” of the early 1980’s was born and unemployment remarkably eliminated, if only for a short period.

Mauritius Today

The last two decades have been marked by economic prosperity and shifting political allegiances as different coalitions have been voted to power and ethnic considerations are returning to the foreground. However, the emergence of global free-market economics, leading to the end of sugar and textile quotas, leaves Mauritius struggling to be competitive. The current coalition, which reunited Jugnauth and Bérenger, is seeking to establish ICT, with significant help from India, as a new pillar of the economy.

The tourist sector now attracts over 700,000 visitors a year, mostly from France, Britain and South Africa. However, continued expansion threatens the environment and the livelihoods and leisure of the local population as they compete for the use of the lagoon, the tranquil waters within the coral reef. Hopefully the government, pressured by the global advent of eco-tourism, will preserve this beautiful island’s natural environment to ensure that Mauritius remains a favoured tourist destination.

Energy Strategy

Light bulbPast

While the islands of Mauritius are too geologically young for the formation of fossil fuels, trees have been converting sunlight into sugars by photosynthesis and storing this energy as wood. For the first few hundred years of human settlement, energy was obtained from burning wood for heat and steam engines (devastating our forests), and hydropower from water wheels to drive mills. In 1899, the first electricity was produced using hydropower and by independence in 1968, it had become Mauritius’ primary source of electricity. As demand for energy, particularly electricity and private transport, increased, it became necessary to import greater volumes of fossil fuels.

Present

Today, approximately 80% of electricity is generated from fossil fuels, much of it coal, nearly all transport depends on petroleum products and industry utilises both coal and oil for heating water and producing steam. Bagasse, the woody waste from sugar production is used to replace coal during the four month milling season at some power plants, however, the reduction in efficiency necessary for this fuel flexibility means that the precious little coal saved compared to dedicated coal-fired power plants. Demand fluctuations during the day are accommodated by oil-fuelled generators because the coal/bagasse ones are too slow to respond. Emergency supply, for example when a large coal/bagasse plant unexpectedly shuts down, is provided by a kerosene-fuelled gas turbine. The lack of flexibility in the overall electricity system is quoted as the reason why only limited amounts of solar and wind power, which are naturally variable, can be incorporated in the supply mix. Most of what has been added so far has been significantly subsidised by public funds.

Hydropower is approaching its maximum exploitable potential, especially considering the slow reduction in annual rainfall and that domestic demand is competing for the use of water stored in reservoirs. However, there is one relatively untapped resource. The waste treatment plant at St Martin is the only one that generates electricity, albeit for its own use, from the anaerobic digestion of sewerage sludge which produces bio-methane. This process also occurs in the landfill sites at Mare Chicose and the methane is finally being used there to generate electricity. One advantage of bio-methane is that it can be easily stored, especially compared to bagasse, and used to generate electricity on demand with very high flexibility, however, this useful property is not currently utilised in Mauritius.

Future

In the long term, it is unavoidable that all electricity will be generated by renewable resources, since fossil fuels will either be exhausted or, for fear of global warming, left in the ground. As the the cost of photovoltaic solar power continues to fall, it will soon be the most cost effective method of generating electricity. Obviously, it cannot be produced at night and output is significantly reduced on cloudy days. On windy days, wind power could fill the gap, but obviously this cannot be relied upon.  The critical step will be the development of large-scale, cost-effective electricity storage which will balance out the difference between variable demand and supply over a 24 hour period. How do we meet demand during the interim, while avoiding the need to build more coal power stations and locking the nation into long term contracts based on the increasing costs of fossil fuels?

First of all, demand for electricity should be decreased wherever possible. This is most relevant for industrial consumers who have long benefited from subsidised electricity prices. Their cost of electricity should be increased to market levels with subsidies invested as grants to install more efficient equipment. Industries should also be compelled to at least preheat water using solar heaters, and preferably use concentrating solar collectors (or photovoltaics) to produce steam.

Air-conditioning in homes and commercial buildings should be reduced by installing insulation, shading – ideally by solar panels for roofs and windows, and encouraging natural ventilation. Energy use in transport would be significantly reduced if citizens shared their cars and used public services. Various incentives have proved effective in other countries.

A growing proportion of the population and responsible businesses are ready to contribute to Mauritius’ sustainability by installing solar panels and wind turbines on their buildings, without the incentive of subsidies. This should be encouraged and will only be limited by the flexibility of the overall system, which can be enhanced by generating electricity from bio-methane on demand.  To achieve this, anaerobic digestion of solids at the St Martin sewerage plant should be replicated at the other sites.

Future sewerage treatment should also include anaerobic digestion of  the liquid fraction of septic waste, thus replacing the energy intensive aerobic systems which are currently used to clean our waste water. With much of the necessary infrastructure already in place, it would be relatively simple to increase capacity and anaerobically digest green waste at the sewerage plants as well. Capacity should be further increased by growing suitable crops in the vicinity, such as rapidly growing energy grasses which organically store energy from sunlight. They could be fertilised using the composted residue of digested sewage, while the residue of the digested grasses and green waste could be used to restore soil fertility of over-farmed soils. This neatly closes the nutrient cycle and reduces the demand for landfill.

Electricity from flexible, on-demand, bio-methane-fuelled plants permits renewables to replace a much greater proportion of fossil fuels because it allows the incorporation of more solar and wind power by balancing their variability. This leverage makes it anaerobic digestion a far more attractive target for subsidies than other technologies. Indeed, subsidies for large scale solar plants, especially on agricultural or forested land, should not even be considered since solar power will soon become cost-competitive. Moreover, since there is sufficient area on the roofs of buildings to meet our electricity needs many times over, undeveloped land should be reserved for more suitable purposes.

Concerned citizens are also beginning to consider replacing their fossil-fuelled cars with electric ones. This can be encouraged by using a “free-bate” system, where increased taxes on petrol and diesel cars can be used to subsidise electric ones and build a network of fast charging stations around the country without recourse to public funds. Intelligent charging systems for cars that are parked for longer periods can help balance the electricity supply and demand by switching on and off as required. As the storage capacity of vehicles improves, we can also expect to see electric powered lorries and buses.

Not everyone in Mauritius needs a highly reliable supply. Additional solar generation can be added without the need to support it with flexible, on-demand generation. The installation of smart meters allowing supplies to homes and businesses to be remotely cut, introduces “negaWatts” into the system whereby demand can be instantaneously reduced. Naturally, those opting in to the system would benefit by having to pay a reduced rate per unit of electricity, balanced by a higher price for those who want a reliable supply. This is an ideal way of reducing electricity bills for the poor without having to introduce costly subsidies.

By implementing this strategy, the whole country – homes, offices, factories and even transport – will be progressively powered by electricity from free, non-polluting renewable sources balanced by bio-methane in the short term and, in the long term, by electricity storage.

Preserving Our Beaches

Mauritius BeachPast

Beaches are quite remarkable since they are formed by waves bringing sand from the sea bed onto the coast against the force of gravity. In fact waves both bring sand to the shore and take it away again and it only accumulates to form beaches when the conditions are right. Some of the factors which influence this are the slope of the underlying bedrock, typical wave strength, concave coast line and offshore structures such as rocky outcrops and coral reefs.

As soon as Mauritius formed, the soft rocks that form soils inland were washed away around the coast exposing the underlying basaltic rock which was slowly eroded by wave action into black basalt sand, as found in Sable Noires. Initially the beaches of Mauritius would have resembled those of the Canary Islands; indeed, dig deep enough at many beaches around the island and you will find a substrate of black sand. As the protective fringing reefs slowly formed out to sea by massive and encrusting corals, the lagoon became tranquil enough for relatively fragile, fast growing coral to form on exposed rock. These were grazed by lagoon fishes, such as parrot fish, which crushed them into powder as they digested them. This is the main source of fine white coral sand on many beaches. Coarser sand formed as waves from storms and cyclones smashed these fragile corals, while flecks of colour in the sand are mostly from broken shells.

It is important to remember that beaches are a dynamic process rather than a fixed feature and the sand below the high tide mark is constantly being moved around. Waves which hit the beach obliquely and long-shore currents displace sand along the coast. Sand is also lost from the beach as the wind blows it into sand dunes and even further in land. It is also lost from the lagoon by being pulled by currents through passes in the fringing reef. These are natural exits for water to leave the lagoon, especially between high to low tides and also contribute to the long-shore currents which flow parallel to the coast.

Long term changes in sea level caused by ice ages and interglacial periods have modified the position of high and low tides and the shape of the coastline. However, the processes of sand formation have generally outweighed those of sand loss, allowing the beaches to slowly accumulate. In some areas, so much sand has been deposited over time that the coastline has grown outwards into the sea for hundreds of metres. A good example is Pointe aux Canonniers whose whole extent is basically one massive sand bank covered with a relatively thin layer of top soil.

Present

Historical human impact in Mauritius has resulted in an enormous sand deficit and coral loss within the lagoon as they were mined for aggregate for construction and to produce lime for sugar production. Although this is now outlawed, sand is still being lost from beaches at unnaturally high rates because of accidental transportation on people’s feet, shoes and the tyres of vehicles. It is also being lost from the lagoon through artificial passes that have been blasted through the fringing reef and natural ones that have been widened and deepened for larger pleasure craft. These have also increased the strength of long-shore currents, transporting sand along the coast. Human impact has also reduced the rate at which sand is produced both by the dramatic reduction in coral growth within the lagoon and the almost complete loss of coral grazing fish.

Rising sea levels would normally cause beaches to migrate inland exposing the sand that had previously accumulated there. Without any understanding of long term beach dynamics, we have constructed buildings on much of this buffer area, preventing migration. Whenever the sea reaches a solid wall, incoming waves deposit less sand and reflected waves carry it away at an increased rate causing beaches to rapidly disappear. This can be seen at various private coastal developments where walls have been constructed to retain soil that has been placed to create level gardens. Groyns (cages of rock) and solid jetties have been used to try to interrupt long-shore currents. In the short term they cause local sand accumulation, at the expense of beaches downstream, but storms and cyclones will inevitably remove this trapped sand.

Proposals

Strategically placed offshore structures can be used to enhance sand deposition in suitable locations, hence preserving current beaches and perhaps creating new ones in the short term. Care must be taken to prevent the formation of new long-shore currents and ensure the one beach isn’t preserved at the cost of losing another further along the coast. Under current conditions, however, such solutions would only be temporary.

Sea level rise due to climate change threatens the survival of our natural beaches in the medium term. To reverse the anthropogenic component, it is imperative that we persuade other countries to help restore atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to their pre-industrial levels. We will only succeed in this if we set an example in making the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and engaging in aggressive reforestation. In the mean time, we must take fairly drastic adaptation measures by allowing our beaches to migrate inland into the buffer zones of accumulated sand. This requires strict coastal management, the demolition of coastal property and restoration of the profile of the original sand slopes.

Even without rising sea levels, in the long term, our beaches will slowly shrink due to a shortfall in the sand production-loss balance. To reduce loss inland we must make sure we leave sand on the beach by removing it from our feet as we leave and avoid parking vehicles on the sand. Artificial and artificially enlarged passes through the fringing reef must be closed to retain sand within the lagoon and restore long-shore currents to their natural states. To restore sand production, it is vital to encourage the growth of coral within the lagoon which means drastically reducing the factors which limit it (see Coral Reefs) and replenishing the lagoon with coral grazing fish.

Saving Our Soils

sos[1]There is an enormous hurdle to the sustainable use of our arable lands, whether for energy crops, food production or even reforestation: our agricultural activity over the last half-century has significantly reduced soil fertility. Before being cultivated, these lands had been self-sustaining, closed-cycle ecosystems for millions of years. The nutrients that vegetation extracted from the soil were returned to it through the decay of dead branches, leaves and fruit. CO2 from the atmosphere was incorporated into plant tissue, and this carbon was transferred to the soil through plant decay – soil humus levels were built up. Continue reading

Permaculture: the foundation of nutritional security

Permaculture is the art and science of designing sustainable human communities that utilise integrated farming practices based on the principles learned from the study of natural ecosystems. Its key objectives are to bring food production closer to consumers, to restore soil fertility, and to cultivate land in ways that maximise long term productivity, while minimising artificial inputs and effort. Small-scale, land and energy-efficient, multi-crop systems replace large-scale, energy-consuming, extensive mono-crop ones. This approach avoids and reverses the enormous problems caused by modern industrial agriculture, such as habitat and species loss, soil degradation, erosion and salinity, as well as the unnecessary economic and environmental costs of transporting food over large distances. Continue reading

A Testing Time

Extracts from the address by Rundheersing Bheenick, Governor, Bank of Mauritius, at the Annual Dinner in honour of Economic Operators, Pailles, 1 December 2011. For the full document – click here.

We are living in troubled and testing times. Several questions arise. Will we be agile enough to meet the severe tests ahead? What kind of growth should we seek? Should it not be more inclusive? And more equitable? We are trying hard to move into niche markets but is this enough? What else must we do to escape the middle-income trap, to be amongst the best small economies, not just in Africa, but in the wider world where our main competitors are to be found?

We have seen the likes of Malta, Singapore, Hong Kong, Ireland and others raising the bar to achieve GDP per capita, adjusted for purchasing power, more than twice the levels we have achieved despite our continued economic growth. Can we make the breakthrough? Are we prepared to do what it takes to do so? Continue reading

Transport today and tomorrow

The far-sighted National Development Strategy superbly integrated policies for land use and transport. Unfortunately, politicians ignored it and implemented half-baked projects in response to oligarchic lobbies and contemporary crises rather than future needs. This follows the sad precedent of dismantling Mauritius’ extensive railway network, which used to link not only Port Louis with the towns of Plaines Wilhems, but also Mahébourg, Souillac, Tamarin, Flic-en-Flac, Pamplemousses, Rivière du Rempart, Flacq and GRSE.

At that time, people preferred buses and sugar growers lorries as they were faster and more convenient but, as private car ownership has increased, our roads have become gridlocked during ever lengthening rush hours. A plethora of new roads is a reactive solution and the recent revival of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, re-routed through Bagatelle, seems intended to increase the value of a certain sugar estate’s holdings. Continue reading