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File photo / The Macaneta bridge
For 18 years, Mauritius has held a lease on territory a tenth the area of the island nation in Mozambique without being able to develop it. Now, with the larger of the two sites involved recently becoming accessible, the Mauritian High Commission in Mozambique has put the dossier back on the table.
In 1999, by agreement between the Mauritian and Mozambican governments, Mauritius leased over 20,000 hectares of land in Mozambique, 14,000 of which were in Marracuene, close to the capital, Maputo. However, due to lack of easy access, the site was never developed. Eighteen years later, the project has come to life again.
Only 30 km from Maputo, the district of Marracuene was considered a real opportunity for the Mauritian government of that time. Mozambique had, after the civil war which ended in 1992, opened its arms wide to foreign investors to help it develop its land capital. Between 2004 and 2008, it would concede 6.6 million hectares to foreign states or companies. Mauritius came into play in 2009 with a project that was to serve as a springboard for the country in its conquest of the region. But even if the Marracuene territory was suitable for agriculture, its difficult access meant that no development took place.
But change is in the air. Previously, to reach the site, it was necessary to take the boat across the river Incomati. But in about four months, the bridge long promised by the Mozambican authorities will finally be built, making the site easily accessible. All that was needed now was for the High Commission of Mauritius in Mozambique to take up the issue again.
“I was able to visit the plot recently. We have filed a request for the exact plan of the land that we had under lease and have asked for other documents that we were lacking. Then we launched a study to establish the composition of the earth so we can see what development was possible there,” says Jean Pierre Jhumun, Mauritius’ ambassador to Mozambique.
The Sugar Investment Trust (SIT) was approached a few weeks ago to plant sugar cane, because there is a strong demand for domestic sugar in Mozambique, the country still importing a good part of its consumption.
“The expanding Maragra sugar factory is about two hours by truck from Marracuene, so transporting cane shouldn’t be a problem,” Jhumun explains. The plant belongs to Illovo Sugar, the main sugar producer in Africa. “At the SIT level, we are waiting for the report on the soil to decide on the way forward.”
Mauritius also has a lease on about 6,000 hectares in the central province of Mozambique, but this site is further away. “That will be for later,” Jhumun says.
Despite Mozambique’s rather complicated socio-political situation, the opportunities are real. “In Madagascar, we find Mauritian products on every street corner, but in Mozambique, there are no products from our country,” Jhumun says.
By Patrik Hilbert
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