Trading Technology for Land: Madagascar, the Huge Indian Ocean Island State, Has Plenty of Land but Not Enough Land Use; Mauritius Its Tiny Neighbour Has the Capital and Expertise to Use Land Profitably but Not Enough Land. Nasseem Ackbarally Reports on Initiatives to Dovetail the Two Needs
Ackbarally, Nasseem, African Business
Ten years ago, Mauritius obtained 100,000 hectares of land in Mozambique for agricultural and economic development. But, with the exception of some sugar farmers, the country's entrepreneurs failed to make use of this opportunity. Now Mauritius, well aware that it must meet the challenge of a soon to be reformed world sugar trading regime, is looking to exploit a similar opportunity on its giant Indian Ocean island neighbour, Madagascar.
Teeruthraj Hurdoyal has been one of the leading Mauritian exporters of fruits and vegetables to Europe for the past decade. Having recently returned from Madagascar, he believes that cultivating vegetables and fruits for export from the country is a viable business proposition as there is a surplus of available, fertile land. "I am planning to cultivate potato, cassava and vanilla in Madagascar for export to Europe. And wild lychees are also abundant; we just have to pick them for export. Alternatively, we might send the lychees to Mauritius for processing and then re-export them to European markets," he says.
However, Hurdoyal admits that the lack of transport logistics and infrastructure on Madagascar could prove a huge, perhaps insurmountable challenge for his new business plan. Another entrepreneur, Tunraz Rampal, although concerned over land ownership issues, the legal security of investments and the lack of efficient customs and port services, believes that there are good prospects for agribusiness projects in Madagascar.
Other problems that Rampal has identified include bad roads and a shortage of mechanical agricultural equipment for land preparation as well as the lack of cold-storage facilities. "But," Rampal insists, "the land is fertile, there are no pests, and labour costs are low."
Investments in technology and know-how
Madagascar could become the main source of food products for Mauritius, as there is little land left on Mauritius for agricultural, tourism and economic development. The government in Mauritius is encouraging its entrepreneurs to go to Madagascar and cultivate the land there to supply food crops to Mauritius and other countries, launch tourism activities and bring back foreign exchange. The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) played a crucial role in organising a trade mission of Mauritian entrepreneurs to visit Madagascar last January to see for themselves the possibilities that exist in agribusiness, thereby developing a viable model of regional economic development.
Madagascar's plans are quite clear. The big island needs foreign investment to boost its economic growth and improve the population's standard of living. "Mauritius has the technology and the know-how, we have the land and the manpower. The opportunities are here to be seized," says the Malagasy agriculture and fishing minister, Harison Edmond Randriarimanana.
For Mauritius, investing in Madagascar is driven by the need for the island to develop a strategy to ensure food security. Its agriculture business has long been dominated by just one crop--sugar cane. For other foodstuffs, the island is a net importer. "We have chosen Madagascar because the two islands have a common destiny and are called upon to face together the challenge of globalisation," says Mauritian agriculture minister, Arvin Boolell. For him, it is simply unsustainable for Mauritius to import maize from Argentina, for example, when Madagascar could supply it from the region.
The political will is clearly defined, but certain technical aspects still pose major obstacles to potential investors. One such obstacle is the mass of phyto-sanitary regulations concerning the importation of agricultural goods from Madagascar into Mauritius. Malagasy officials and the private sector both insist on the need to relax the measures imposed by Mauritius, arguing that the two countries should not become prisoners of international standards. …