Agri-Business Takes Centre Stage: Thousands of Agri-Business Enterprises Are Being Established in Mauritius. with Government Support and Incentives, These Companies Are Processing and Exporting Agricultural Products to New Markets in Europe and Australia. Nasseem Ackbarally Reports from Port-Louis
Ackbarally, Nasseem, African Business
Revenues from Mauritius' non-sugar agricultural sector contracted to under $81m in 2005. Alarmed at this trend, Agriculture Minister Arvin Boolell has given new vigour to agri-business by elaborating a national and regional strategy for the development for the sector. "We cannot sit back, relax and enjoy our comfort when things on the economic front are becoming very difficult for us," Bolell told entrepreneurs at a national forum on agri-business last April. "The concept of [just achieving] food security is no longer on the agenda."
Since the 1990s, agriculture has become a business like any other economic activity," says Jean-Claude Autrey, director of the Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute. According to Autrey, Mauritius, has got very good producers but not necessarily good entrepreneurs. Producers must, he says, get a sharper sense of business, achieve control of production costs and obtain accurate information about international markets, how they are moving, prices and seasonal fluctuations, and an understanding of consumers' tastes and preferences.
This is where the Agricultural Research and Extension Unit (AREU), a state-funded institution, steps in. For more than three years it has been carrying out research and developing new varieties of plants, training farmers and entrepreneurs in the best use of pesticides, insecticides and fertilisers, as well as researching markets and post-harvest processing and preservation. Transforming Mauritius' agricultural products into food products sought by international consumers is key to stimulating the island's agri-business growth.
AREU has helped create numerous small agri-business enterprises on the island. Other enterprises that have been launched independently are seeking the institution's free technical advice to expand their business. AREU's mission is to conduct cost-effective high-quality research into how best the country's agricultural sector can meet government policy in terms of diversification, food production and developing new agro-industries.
"We are here to raise farm productivity and hence farm income; to provide farmers with important technical back-up with packages that will enable them to take advantage of existing and emerging markets, locally and abroad and to support agri-business generally," AREU's assistant director, Dhaneswar Dumur, explains.
"This institution's job is to overcome the farmers' and the entrepreneurs' problems, provide them with opportunities for wealth creation and to improve their quality of life," he added.
Training of young entrepreneurs and farmers at its model farms and the distribution of free information pamphlets and other publications disseminating research work and advice is part of the work of the AREU's staff of 50 agricultural scientists and 20 technicians. An agri-business advice desk also speeds up things for entrepreneurs.
One course, mostly for women entrepreneurs, led by Shivranee Ori, an AREU Senior Extension Officer, is aimed at teaching techniques of processing and preserving fruits and vegetables for the production of pickles, of chips from potato, sweet potato and banana, as well as dehydrated and frozen fruits and vegetables.
Companies profit from abundance
Eugenie Foods, situated at Bambous, in western Mauritius, is one company that has made good use of this course. Four years ago, Jocelyne Laurent and her husband used all their savings and took a bank loan to launch their enterprise producing fruit and vegetable pickles, chilli chutney, mango chutney, mixed banana/lychee chutney and other products. Today, Eugenie Foods is supplying not only the local market and the big tourist hotels but also markets in Europe and Australia.
"There is a huge interest for our exotic products in Europe, but one must meet quality requirements which is not easy for a small enterprise," Laurent told African Business. …