In Mauritius agro-biodiversity is directly linked to food security and broadly categorised into two main groups: sugar and non-sugar (i.e. vegetables, fruit, medicinal plants and livestock) while in Rodrigues it is categorised into fruits and food crops. From 2009 to 2013, general trends for agricultural production in the Republic of Mauritius show a slowdown. In Mauritius, these trends are closely dependent on the government policies. For sugar cane, which mainly result from EU sugar reform and the drastic reduction in sugar price since 2006, these trends reflect a reduction of area, moving out of sugar cane production for small-scale farmers through abandonment, conversion from sugar cane to other agricultural uses (food crops and fruits), and conversion of land to non-agricultural uses (such as Integrated Resort Schemes – IRS) and residential and infrastructure projects).
Livestock production remain generally stable with an rise in goat production linked to an increased demand from Mauritius. Livestock trends in Mauritius are linked to livestock disease, increased costs of inputs (especially feed), marketing problems, land availability, fodder, and consumption decrease. It has resulted in a reduction of small-size breeders for the benefit of medium and large size breeders.
The government and the Maurice Ile Durable (MID) Strategy and Action Plan encourage sustainable farming practices (bio-fertilizers, rainwater harvesting). The Republic of Mauritius ratified the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits in 2013. The major threat to agricultural biodiversity is the loss of genetic resources as emphasis is being placed on a relatively small number of imported higher yielding crop varieties and animal breeds, and that field station lands with important genetic resources are being released for development. Direct drivers of agro biodiversity loss include habitat destruction via conversion of agricultural land to other uses; possible negative impacts of biotechnology and bioenergy crops; natural calamities associated with climate change such as droughts in Rodrigues; and introduction of invasive alien species, pests and diseases. Indirect drivers of agro-biodiversity loss are international trade policies and land increase demand for food. Furthermore, limited land area and capacity, incomplete inventories and research, lack of inter-institutional communication and collaboration are also jeopardising agro-biodiversity. Similarly, the introduction of Living Modified Organisms (LMO) in the future could contribute to genetic erosion and loss of traditional crops.
Up until the 1970s, the Mauritian economy was predominantly agricultural and based on sugar cane production. Since the 1980s, there has been an increase in industrialization and economic diversification. The agricultural sector’s contribution to GDP has declined from 23% in 1970 to 6.2% in 2004 with sugar cane, tea and tobacco contributing 66% of this total, food crops 20%, and livestock and poultry 10%.
Agriculture is dominated by the production of staple food such as maize, sweet potato, cassava, onion and garlic. The major livestock reared are cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and poultry. Total livestock production not only meets the subsistence requirements of the island but also generates surplus for export to Mauritius.
The native flora has a species that is regularly exploited, the endemic palmiste blanc (Dictyosperma album var. album) and three members of one genus (Coffea spp.) that has yielded economically important crops elsewhere:
– Two of these Coffea species (Coffea macrocarpa and C. myrtifolia) are endemic to Mauritius, while the third, C. mauritiana, is also found in Réunion. These species are known to be naturally caffeine-free and could thus be of great importance in developing low caffeine cultivars (Dulloo 1998).
– Palmiste blanc is cultivated in plantations on marginal lands for its palm cabbage. This local trade is estimated to be worth 20 million rupees (Govinden 2004).
– Some native grass species can still be found in pasture (e.g. Cynodon dactylon – chiendent, Paspalum commersonii – herbe à epée, Stenotaphrum dimidiatum – herbe bourrique).
Sugarcane: The cultivated Saccharum species, S. officinarum, S. sinense, S. barberi, and the wild Saccharum species S. spontaneum, S. robustum as well as associated genera, Erianthus, Miscanthus, Narenga, Sclerostachya constitute the basic genetic resources of sugarcane. The Mauritius Sugarcane Industry Research Institute (MSIRI) holds a sizeable collection of accessions (2,340), which have either directly or indirectly contributed to produce new varieties. These clones are conserved exclusively by vegetative means.
Other crops: There are 471 of crop seed accessions in the seed gene bank (manned by the Plant Genetic Resources Unit (PGR) of the Ministry of Agro Industry and Food Security) consisting among others of the following genera: Amaranthus, Allium, Brassica, Cucurbita, Lycopersicon, Phaseolus, Solanum, Abelmoschus and Vigna.104 accessions of vegetatively propagated crop are conserved as ex situ accessions in the field gene bank of the Plant Genetic Resources Unit. These include Ipomoea batatas, Musa spp., Manihot esculenta, Colocasia spp. among others. Some wild relatives of the cultivated species of Lycopersicon spp., Cajanus spp., Cucumis spp. and Solanum spp. are conserved in the seed genebank. Another wild species called “lentille creole” (Vigna glabrescens) is considered to be among the rare species and the seeds are stored in the Vigna collection at the Université Agricole de Gembloux, Belgium. It is extensively used in the breeding of beans against Fusarium wilt. Three wild coffee native species (Coffea macrocarpa, C. myrtifolia and C. mauritiana) are conserved in situ in the protected areas by the Natural Park and Conservation Service. For potato, a germplasm consisting of 5 locally developed clones are being maintained.