Living off the land

Cane sugar plantations cover almost 90% of the cultivated land. Other agricultural products are manioc, banana and coconut. On higher ground there are also a large areas of tea plantations. Tea is heavily subsidised for social and political reasons. Recently, agriculture has started to diversify away from sugar and the main new crops have been flowers, including anthuriums, and tropical fruit such as mangoes, papayas and pineapples.

Mauritius, along with the islands of Rodrigues and Reunion, is part of a series of volcanic islands called the Mascarenes: at the top of this ridge are the Seychelles and Reunion is in the south. The island of Reunion is still a province/department of France and still volcanically active. The volcanic origin of Mauritius is key to understanding the island’s shapes and its agriculture. The soil is very fertile, though rocky, and this made it an ideal place for sugar cane plantations that have dominated Mauritius’ economy for over 200 years. The tea plantations have very much been in decline in recent years – higher labour costs make it hard to compete with Indian production. In any event the tea flavour is not well suited to the international market – the flavour is weak and consequently vanilla is often added to Mauritian tea.

The main concentrations of population are on higher ground because, historically, this avoided the swampy mosquito areas of the lowlands and the hills provided more shelter from tropical storms and hurricanes. The coolness of the higher ground also attracted more settlements, although of course the coastline itself is dotted with fishing villages.

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