In 1990 the government initiated a five-year plan costing MauR7.3 billion to bolster the sugar industry. Sugarcane covers 45 percent of the total area of Mauritius and more than 90 percent of the cultivated land. Nineteen large estates account for about 55 percent of the 76,000 hectares planted in cane and range in size from about 730 hectares to 5,500 hectares. (Land in Mauritius is also measured in an archaic French unit, the arpent.) Mauritian firms own fifteen of these plantations; the British multinational Lonrho owns two and controls a Mauritian firm which owns another; and the Mauritian government owns one estate. Some 35,000 small growers (with plots ranging from less than one hectare to about 400 hectares) tend the remainder of the crop and send their harvest for processing to the large planters, each of whom owns a sugar factory.
Since 1951 the production of sugar has been encouraged by marketing arrangements with consuming countries (principally Britain), which have guaranteed prices and markets for the Mauritian crop. The government has acquired a portion of this reliable sugar income through a sugar export tax. By the mid1980s this tax had evolved into a steeply progressive one, with producers of under 1,000 tons of cane paying no tax, producers of 1,000 to 3,000 tons paying 15.75 percent, and producers of more than 3,000 tons paying 23.625 percent. This tax provided 13 percent of the government's revenues in 1986. However, complaints mainly by the large miller/planters and severe economic pressures on the sugar industry prompted the government in 1993 to reduce the tax in each category by 9.4 percent. This move met opposition by many who claimed the large growers were being given favorable treatment.
Since 1975 Mauritius has had an export quota of about 500,000 tons per year under the Sugar Protocol of the Lomé Convention, the largest share of all nineteen signatories. The guaranteed price in 1991 was nearly twice the world freemarket price. In 1992 the country exported 597,970 tons of sugar; of this amount, Britain received 498,919 tons.
Production has remained steady at between 600,000 and 700,000 tons since the mid-1960s. The exception occurs when severe cyclones or droughts cause a decline in the cane harvest.
Since 1984 the Mauritius Sugar Authority, operating under the Ministry of Agriculture, has advised the government regarding sugar policy. In addition, the authority acts as a nexus between the government and the numerous organizations involved in sugar production. These organizations include parastatal, producers', and workers' organizations, as well as extension and research bodies. The private Mauritius Sugar Syndicate, which has offices in London and Brussels, handles all aspects of domestic and foreign sugar marketing, including transportation, finance, insurance, and customs duties. The Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute (MSIRI) conducts research in such areas as plant breeding, entomology, and food-crop agronomy.
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