As we have seen recently, the Mauritian economy has been in a dire situation for quite some time: the sugarcane industry has been making massive losses for a while; textile industry was already declining; last year’s addition of Mauritius to the European union’s money laundering black list was a blow to the financial industry; and the COVID-19 pandemic put the tourism industry on a standstill while the government chose to keep it afloat through billions of public funds.
To worsen the situation, the hotel industry took advantage of the unpopularity of the government to pressure it to reopen the borders so it would continue to obtain customers although the main places from where tourists visit Mauritius, namely France, South Africa, and La Réunion, are also places where the COVID-19 pandemic has been skyrocketing and more virulent strains of the virus are evolving.
The overall situation then is clear: the traditional economic model of Mauritius is not only unsustainable and fragile, but also outright hazardous for the population.
In addition, the crisis caused by the pandemic globally, including in the countries from where Mauritius imports a non-negligible amount of the food and medicines consumed by the population is making clear the fragility of the current socioeconomic situation in which we are and revealing how vulnerable we are to global crises.
It is in these times, more than ever, that the question of food sovereignty and a new economic model needs to not only be considered, but outright implemented, and this as soon as possible. Despite this, the government is issuing more licenses for the construction of more hotels. Until Tuesday, even as the Minister of Agro-Industry Maneesh Gobin was calling for local food production he was still putting the burden on individuals to plant thyme and chillies in yoghurt pots. Until Tuesday, the Prime Minister was stating that the population needs to consume local products, but again putting the burden of this production on individuals instead of proposing an alternative economic programme to the one we already have. On Tuesday, at the launch of a new Land Bank by Landscope, the Minister of Finance Padayachy and the Minister of Agro-Industry have begun to come up with a plan for freeing up thousands of arpents of abandoned agricultural land for food production, and to encourage food preservation, and even exports of food. We will have to continue putting political pressure on the Government to speed up further diversification. The land under sugar cane must be freed up. Food preservation and processing plants must be established. Sea food production must be linked in. The 2.4 million square kilometres of economic zone of the oceans must be incorporated into the plan.
These declarations are also making it clear that the public consensus on the already existing economic model is slowly collapsing, but despite this there is a lack of courage by the very same officials from which this admission is coming to openly and publicly take their analyses to their logical conclusions, which is that what is urgently needed now is that the resources presently used for the already failing sugarcane and tourism industries must be used for a new economic model based on local production, especially of food, through which food sovereignty can be achieved, more stable employment be created, and prices of agricultural and fishing produce stabilized.