MAURITIAN SUGAR CANE INDUSTRY
Sugar cane was introduced from Java into Mauritius under the Dutch (1598-1710) to make mainly an alcoholic drink through fermentation, although sugar was produced on a very small scale in 1696. During the French colonization period (1715-1810), the crop became established with formal milling as from 1745 to date. It was under the British (1810-1968), that expansion of the industry occurred resulting into a monocrop economy. At time of Independence in 1968, sugar represented 30% of the GDP and 90% of the value of exports.
With economic diversification in Tourism, Textile, Services, Information Technology, sugar accounted in 2008 for some 2% of GDP and 14% of the value of exports. These data exclude energy from bagasse. The Mauritian Sugar Cane Industry was the first one in the world to generate electricity from bagasse for sale to the national grid after satisfying its internal needs. This occurred in 1957 and has been growing constantly since then with advances in technology. Today the industry co-generation plants have high pressure boilers of 82 bars with steam at 525oC which use bagasse during the crop period and coal in the inter-crop. In 2008, 16% of the electricity output was from bagasse, a renewable clean source and this percentage is a world record. This is very topical in the present debate on climate change, greenhouse gas production from fossil fuels and imperative resort to renewable energies.
Some 140 000 tonnes of molasses are produced every year from which some rum is made but the bulk, some 100 000 tonnes, is exported. Potentially some 24 000 m3 of ethanol can be produced each year to meet in excess of E10 mixture with gasoline which consumption was some 101 000 tonnes in 2008. Factory scums and effluents are applied raw to the fields or are composted. In fact, all products and by-products of the industry are put to good use. Sugar cane production and processing follow the best management practices possible, which over the years have ensured its high level of productivity, its competitiveness and its sustainability.
Sugar production which reached a peak of 718 000 tonnes in 1973 over some 85 000 hectares stands today around 500 000 tonnes on an area of 65 000 hectares, the drop in production being due to loss of lands to other activities tied to socio-economic development. Sugar cane however, still occupies 40% of the area of Mauritius.It has a vibrant Research and Development sector with structured research since 1893 and the industry was among the first in the world to provide resources to research without which progress would be seriously impeded. Today research is giving impetus to genetics, breeding, bio-technology, by-products utilisation and biomass valorisation. The industry has contributed significantly to education, housing, welfare, leisure, etc of its personnel as well as the communities leaving in its neighbourhood at a time when corporate social responsibility was yet to be invented.
The industry has been involved in agricultural diversification activities, mainly vegetable, fruit and meat production. It uses both sugar cane inter-rows, lands between two cane rotations and other lands in full stand for these activities. Over the years the industry has acquired considerable expertise in sugar cane growing, milling and co-products valorisation. It has been involved in numerous sugar cane development projects around the world, especially in Africa. The services of Mauritian sugar cane technologists are sought after in international ventures. The industry has spearheaded development in various industrial sectors including tourism, textile, services, general commerce, etc. It is viewed internally and externally as a dynamic and entrepreneur sector.