Mauritius: Population and Land Use
Wolfgang Lutz and Einar Holm
Mauritius has one of the highest population densities of any sovereign territory in the world (presently about 590 persons/km2 with a population of 1.1 million). In the 1950s and early 1960s Mauritius experienced very high rates of natural population growth (peaking at 3.5 percent per year) followed by a very steep decline in fertility that was probably the most rapid in the world. The total fertility rate dropped from 6.2 children per woman in 1963 to 3.4 in 1971. Currently, because of its young age structure, the population is still growing by 1 percent annually despite subreplacement fertility in the mid-1980s.
The fertility decline in Mauritius occurred in the absence of economic growth and may be attributed mostly to improved female educational status and active family planning programs (Lutz, 1990). During the 1970s gross national product (GNP) per capita started to increase slowly as a consequence of improvements in sugar cane yields, which was the primary product of the economy. The big boom in export-oriented industry, especially textiles, came later, in the 1980s, when for some years Mauritius even experienced double-digit growth rates in its GNP. As a consequence of this growth in labor-intensive industries, unemployment, which had been very high, entirely disappeared. The tourist sector also expanded rapidly during the past decade. As a consequence of this rapid development in the absence of any land use plan or government environmental policies, questions about the state of the Mauritian environment are becoming increasingly important.
Before the first known settlements in the seventeenth century, the is
land was largely covered by natural forest with considerable numbers of ebony trees. The deforestation of this valuable resource started the transformation of the landscape. A century later the growing of sugar cane was introduced and later became the spatially dominating economic land use on the island.
This gradual cultivation of forests and grasslands, etc., for sugar cane production culminated during the twentieth century. In 1965, 53 percent of all land on the island was used for growing sugar cane. Only 4 percent of the land was used for growing other agricultural products. For a long time, Mauritius imported at least two-thirds of its food for consumption (foodcrops, livestock, and poultry).
As can be seen from Figure 1, the main change in land use since 1965 is the transformation of sugar cane land into urban space. The area used for growing sugar cane decreased by 15 percent from 1965 to 1986, to cover 45 percent of the total land area of the island. Meanwhile, urban land use increased by 215 percent, thereby significantly increasing its share of the total island land use. Compared to that, other land use changes are minor, although economically significant. Tea production lost one-third of its former area, whereas land used for the production of food crops increased by 50 percent to 1.6 percent of the total land area.
Another significant change demanding small but very scarce land resources is the rapid growth, especially in the late 1980s, of the tourist industry. It is estimated that some 50 hotels on the beach now occupy almost 30 km of the coastline, or about 2.9 km2. This is a small amount of total island land space, but not much more of its kind is available. This land use also competes directly with land use for recreational purposes, i.e., public beaches.
Usually, one implicit assumption inherent in the study of the relationship between population and land use change is the existence of a strong, direct relationship between the amount of arable land available and the number of people that can be supported by the agricultural production of that area, i.e., the carrying capacity constraint of a society mainly occupied with hunting, collecting, or growing of crops and livestock for its own consumption. However, this direct relationship changes character and becomes weaker as a country develops and as it enters international markets. New agricultural technology and especially the substitution of agriculture for other economic activities increases the ''yield'' per unit of land considerably and thereby the carrying capacity. Therefore, it is essential to consider not only agriculture but the spatial requirements for all kinds of human activities when discussing land use change and the relationship between population change and land use.
Comparing value added and space requirements reveals that rural land use produces less than 3 million rupees (MRs) per square kilometer whereas the economic activities on the total coastal strip (100 m from the water
front) can be valued at 185 MRs/km2 and the different urban activities create values on the order of 64 MRs/km2. Those figures allude to the strength of the economic forces propelling the conversion of rural land for use by industry, urbanization, and export activities during the development process.
Figure 2 gives a more detailed picture of the production of value per land unit by different sectors. The figure is also more speculative in its detailed assumptions. The main tendency is quite clear: Other agriculture produces more value per land unit than does sugar cane production; and the consumption value of residential housing is higher compared to any agricultural use of the same land, but considerably lower than all commercial urban land use. Within the urban category, industrial sites produce somewhat less value per land unit compared to private and public services. Two nonurban land use activities are at the level of industry and services: commercial and private use of road infrastructure and tourist hotels (mainly on the beaches). On Mauritius, their production of value added per land unit exceeds all other land use categories, including the urban ones.
The ratio of value added per land unit between the extremes, tourist hotels and sugar cane, is 70 to 1. On average, urban activities produce at least 20 times more per land unit as compared to rural activities. With such variations it is obvious that rankings of used land area (Figure 3) versus the absolute value produced or consumed in that land area will differ (Figure
4). About 80 percent of the value produced or consumed is based on activities that take place on 10 percent of the land area. Only sugar cane production still rates high both in the amount of land used and the absolute value added of its production.
This simple relationship between value added and used land is only a crude indicator of the direction and strength of the economic forces driving changes in the land use pattern. If everything else is equal this relation would serve as an estimate of the land rent. But everything else is not equal. The amounts and costs of capital and labor, the two other production factors besides land, vary considerably among production sectors.
For example, although other types of agriculture (e.g., consumption crops, tea, flowers, etc.) produce almost 3 times as much value added per land unit as sugar cane, they are not necessarily the more profitable land use because the labor requirements for producing food crops, for example, are much higher compared to those of sugar cane growing. If the level of income per capita, and thereby of wages is high enough, and if the land is not required for other (e.g., urban), more profitable activities, then extensive sugar production still is the more profitable land use alternative.
Judged from a traditional carrying capacity concept, Mauritius, with its very high population density, could be expected to be in trouble. It would not be easy to feed its population at the present level of consumption per-
capita using traditional agriculture. Obviously, the present economic base of Mauritius is not a traditional agricultural one but rather is that of an urban society with export industry and services as its main means of production.
Perhaps Mauritius never was a subsistence economy. Ebony, sugar, spices, textiles, and tourist services are all export products. In traditional agriculture one produces goods for immediate domestic consumption. Sugar cane has, since long before the reduction in fertility and the economic growth of recent decades, dominated agricultural land use on Mauritius. From a subsistence point of view sugar cane production and sugar milling are more similar to an export industry than to domestic agriculture. The whole purpose of export-oriented production is to get a valuable asset for use in trading on the world market, thereby importing what otherwise had to be produced locally for domestic consumption. Therefore it is not the direct need for food crops, etc., to feed a growing population that steers land use patterns on Mauritius, but rather the desire for an efficient total production and consumption pattern.
Still, at any level of economic development, sufficient quantities of food have to be produced somewhere. The question for a small region or country is why do it themselves, domestically? Suppose it would be feasible to increase the present level of food self-sufficiency from one-third to almost 100 percent by converting, say, another 2–4 percent of the total land
area from sugar cane production to other types of agriculture while at the same time increasing interline cropping within the sugar fields, corresponding to still another 2–4 percent of land for food production.
Due to most evaluations of the profitability of food crops versus sugar cane, the alternative of sugar cane (or industrial or tourist) production on that land would have created resources to buy both the food needed and other goods and services on the world market. So why not continue to explore the relative economic advantages for production and land use that have evolved based on sugar, tourism, textiles, and electronics? Other factors will be important to a move toward agricultural self-sufficiency, such as lower sensitivity to world market changes, possible negative environmental consequences of sugar cane or textile production, or possible cultural and political reasons. The task for the Mauritian government is to find the right balance between profitability, political feasibility, and longer term resilience.
In general, causal effects between changes in population and changes in land use and per capita land availability may go in both directions. Changes in population size, structure, and regional distribution may influence changes in the use of the available land. On the other hand, a clearly visible shortage of land may induce the population to limit its growth. There is some evidence that this factor played a role in the rapid fertility decline in Mauritius.
This paper draws from a larger study on population and sustainable development in Mauritius conducted by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in scientific collaboration with the University of Mauritius and with funding from the United Nations Population Fund. With the help of a computer simulation and information system, the project studies the effect of changes in population size and structure (by age, sex, educational status, and labor force participation) on the economy and, in turn, on two environmental systems, namely water dynamics and land use. The model assures that all links between population and land use work through the social and economic system and that there are no immediate effects due to population changes (Lutz and Toth, 1991).
Sometimes changes in land use directly conflict. Clearly, the same piece of land cannot be used for sugar cane production and urban settlements at the same time. An industrial site on the beach effectively prevents its use for tourism. Other types of land use can coexist, more or less symbiotically, like the method of sugar cane production known as interline cropping, whereby full use is made of the rotation land between two cane cycles. A decentralized settlement pattern might coexist with small-scale production of food crops. The chance to partly substitute food imports with local production of such food crops and the vision of making Mauritius a "garden island" makes this possibility attractive. On the other hand, the economies of growing food crops as compared to sugar cane are uncertain,
and a decentralized settlement pattern increases the volume of private transport needed and thereby the import of cars and fuel, as well as the amount of air pollution (Holm and Oberg, 1991).
The constraints on changing land use are partly physical. There is not much unused land left with soil and surface structures suitable for any kind of agricultural use. The same holds for the availability of new beaches for development of the tourism. Hence, like in many other places in the world, the question is not one of conquering virgin land, but rather how best to set up a useful garden scheme that takes maximum advantage of all available land.
In Mauritius, the effects of population growth on land use are highly indirect. Changes in the size and structure of the population do not automatically result in more or less agricultural land because through its integration in the world market, Mauritius can buy what it needs if it has the assets. Hence, land use changes are driven by profitability considerations in combination with certain government policies. If there is any direct effect of population growth, then it might be the increased demand for housing. Indeed, the expansion of urban areas in Mauritius has been associated not only with an increase in the number of people, but also with an increase in the number of square meters of living space per person due to increased wealth. Such an association, however, holds only under constant housing patterns. A transition to high-rise buildings—as is presently happening—will change the effect of population growth on urban land use.
A much more detailed discussion of the population-development-environment interactions in Mauritian history and in its future (up to 2050) partly using the Mauritius computer simulation model is given in Lutz (1993). In conclusion, one can say that, through its social and economic development, Mauritius is in a position to have some freedom of choice in its future land use changes.
Holm, E., and S. Oberg 1991 Aspects of geographical distribution on a small island: future settlement patterns in Mauritius, cost and benefits. Pp. 311–325 in W. Lutz and F.L. Toth eds., Population, Economy, and Environment in Mauritius. CP-91-1 Laxenburg, Austria: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
Lutz, W. 1990 Population and sustainable development. POPNET 18(Fall):1–4.
1991 Population, environment, and development: a case study of Mauritius. Options (December): 11–15.
1993 Population-Development-Environment: Understanding Interaction in Mauritius. London: Springer-Verlag.
Lutz, W., and F.L. Toth, eds. 1991 Population, Economy, and Environment in Mauritius. CP-91-1. Laxenburg, Austria: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.