TO THE FAO INTERNATIONAL
ON PLANT GENETIC RESOURCES
Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Ministry of Economic Planning and Development
Ministry of Environment and Quality of Life
Ministry of Education and Science
Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute
Food and Agricultural Research Council
Agricultural Marketing Board
University of Mauritius
Mauritius Institute of Education
Port Louis, April 1995
Note by FAO
context of the preparatory process for the FAO International Technical
Conference on Plant Genetic Resources, Leipzig, Germany, June 17-23 1996.
The Report is being made available by FAO as requested by the International
Technical Conference. However, the report is solely the responsibility of the
national authorities. The information in this report has not been verified by
FAO, and the opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views or
policy of FAO.
The designations employed and the presentation of the material and maps in
this document do not imply the expression of any option whatsoever on the
part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
concerning the legal status of any country, city or area or of its authorities, or
concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.
Table of contents
2.1 FOREST GENETIC RESOURCES
2.2 WILD SPECIES AND WILD RELATIVES OF CROP PLANTS
2.3 LAND RACES AND OLD CULTIVARS
NATIONAL CONSERVATION ACTIVITIES
3.2.1 Sugarcane collection
3.2.2 Other field collections
3.2.3 Seed bank
3.2.6 Botanical gardens and arboreta
3.2.7 Crop museum
4.1 USE OF PGR COLLECTION
4.2 USE OF FOREST GENETIC RESOURCES
4.3 IMPROVING PGR UTILISATION
NATIONAL GOALS, POLICIES, PROGRAMMES AND LEGISLATION
5.1 CONSERVATION AND ENVIRONMENT POLICY
5.2 FOREST POLICY
5.3 NATIONAL LEGISLATION
5.3.1 Quarantine laws
5.3.2 Forest and wildlife laws
5.4 OTHER POLICIES
5.5 TRAINING NEEDS AND OPPORTUNITIES
6.1 EXCHANGE OF GERMPLASM
6.2 INTERNATIONAL AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH CENTRES
6.3 BILATERAL RELATIONS AND REGIONAL COOPERATION
LIST OF THE MOST THREATENED NATIVE PLANTS
LIST OF OLD CULTIVARS OF SWEET POTATO, CASSAVA
COMMITTEE ON PLANT GENETIC RESOURCES
The Republic of Mauritius is composed of the islands of Mauritius,
Rodrigues, Agalega, St. Brandon and a number of outlying smaller islands, all
located in the south of the Indian Ocean between latitudes 10° S and 20° S
and longitude 55° E and 65° E. Mauritius is the principal island and is
located at latitude 20° South and longitude 58° East, some 800 km from the
south east of Madagascar and has a land area of 1,865 km
population of the Republic of Mauritius was estimated at 1,106,000 at the
end of December 1993 and the rate of population growth was 1.3 percent.
About half of the population is concentrated in the urban areas which lie
along the axis from the capital Port-Louis to the city of Curepipe. The
standards of health, nutrition and education are high compared to other
countries in Africa. The adult literacy rate is 83 % and the life expectancy at
birth is about 66 for males and 73 for females (MEPD, 1993).
Mauritius has a tropical maritime climate generally dominated by the south
east trade winds and enjoys a warm moist summer during the months of
December to May and a cool dry winter from June to November. Mauritius
was formed by volcanic activity starting some 8-9 million years ago. The soils
belong to the latosolic group. In function of altitudes and climates, the soils
are classified according to various sub groups starting from humid latosol to
ferruginous latosol. According to USDA classification (7th approximation),
the soil can be grouped as: the Podsol Order on the high plateau and Oxisol
on the dry low lying region.
In isolation the island has evolved a unique flora and fauna with high levels of
endemism. On the discovery of the island in 1598, the land was covered with
a thick green vegetation with a variety of palm trees and wood trees. These
began to decline under the three successive colonisation by the Dutch (1638-
1710), French (1715-1810) and British (1810-1968). The Dutch started the
process of clearing the forest to exploit ebony and palm in the lowland regions
and coastal plains. Indeed, ebony, the finest indigenous wood, was the first
exported agricultural commodity of the island and at one time Mauritius
supplied most of the ebony used in Europe. The clearing process was later
accelerated markedly during the French and British administrations to make
room primarily for agriculture and also infrastructure like roads, and
settlements. The Dutch Governor Van der Stel introduced various seeds and
fruits to the island. Thus, vegetables, rice, indigo, tobacco and sugar cane
were cultivated to feed the population and for export.
Cleared native forest areas in Mauritius have already been converted to
sugar cane, tea, Pinus spp.,
Eucalyptus spp., and Cryptomeria japonica with a resulting loss of important
biodiversity. Today there is no commercial exploitation of native timber.
Nowadays the native forests are restricted to the south west escarpments which
comprise some of the most inaccessible parts of the country and which
contain some of the most scenic landscapes. Currently, the total protected
area (National Parks and Nature Reserves) amounts to 7,363 ha or about
3.7% of the total land area.
There are about 12,400 hectares of state-owned production forests mostly
under pine and about 34,500 ha of privately owned forests in Mauritius.
Some of the other introduced species that are raised in plantations are
Eucalyptus tereticornis, E. robusta, Casuarina equisetifolia, Cryptomeria
japonica, Araucaria cunninghamii, Swietenia mahagoni and Tabebuia
pallida. Eucalyptus and Casuarina make up 20% while the remaining species
constitute about 10% of the forest plantation. All the above mentioned
species, with the exception of
Cryptomeria japonica, grow in the lowlands
where there is hardly any land available for the creation of forest plantation.
Most of the private forests are under scrub vegetation. The forestry sector is
able to produce only about 15,000 m
of timber and poles. The timber
and the rest has to be imported.
Up to the 70's, Mauritius was a predominantly agricultural economic system,
based on a mono-crop-sugar cane. With the advent of industrialisation in the
80's and diversification of agriculture, the Mauritian economy rested on a
broader base. However, sugar cane remains the most important agricultural
export followed by flowers and vegetables. Recent statistics (1993) show that
sugar cane covered about 88% of the cultivable land, 7.5% was under
vegetable, fruits and flowers, 3.6% under tea and 0.6% under tobacco. With
the implementation of the agricultural diversification policy, sugar cane is
intercropped with bean, potato, groundnut, tomato and maize. The result is
encouraging; the country has produced 67% of its needs in potato, 40% in
onion, 17% in garlic and 5% in maize. The food balance sheet for the year
1992 gives a picture of the food situation in the country (Appendix 1).
However, the contribution of agriculture to the national economy has
registered a significant decline with a reduction of the GDP from 23 percent
in 1970 to 9 percent in 1994, mainly as a result of the rapid expansion of the
manufacturing, tourism and services sectors. Nevertheless, the sugar industry
import content of sugar production. The manufacturing sector, principally
textile and garment, has grown to become the largest single sector in the
economy. Its share of the GDP has risen from 15 percent in 1970 to
23 percent in 1994. In addition, an Export Processing Zone (EPZ) has been
set up to attract foreign capital through a combination of tax incentives and
facilities. In Mauritius tourism is another fast expanding industry. It
comprises 24 percent of the total export earnings and 11.4 percent of the
GDP in 1994. The number of tourists has increased significantly in the past
years and it passed the mark of 400,500 tourist arrivals in 1994.
Indigenous Plant Genetic Resources
Mauritius as an oceanic island far from the large land masses, has evolved a
unique flora ever since it was formed 7.8 million years ago. Nevertheless the
origin of this flora comes from several sources. It is believed that 70% of the
phanerogams are derived from the Madagascar and African continent,
8% from Asia, 12% are of pan-indopacific origin and 8% are endemic.
(Cadet, 1977; Guého, 1988).
The extent of native forest area in Mauritius is very limited due to the large
scale forest clearing which occurred during the colonisation period of the
island. Fig. 2 shows the decline in native forests area since 1773. Nowadays,
the bulk of the native forests are located in the south west of the island and on
the upper reaches of mountains and make up between one and two percent of
the land area of Mauritius. These areas still harbour a great diversity of
important indigenous forest trees which the early colonisers had been
harvesting. The black ebony (
Diospyros tesselaria), Bois d'Olive
Elaeodendron orientale), Bois de fer (Stadtmannia oppositifolia), Makaks
Mimusops spp.), and many others were highly prized for their valuable
timber. With the decline in native forest area, the population level of these
species has become too low to allow any sustainable utilisation. However, the
remnant areas of native vegetation still hold a great diversity of plant species
and are of great conservation value. About 700 native flowering plants, of
which some 250 are endemic, are known to occur in Mauritius (World
Conservation Monitoring Centre, 1992; Strahm, 1994). Many of these have
become highly endangered, with about 50 taxa being reduced to less than
10†individuals (Appendix 2). The island of Rodrigues has 36-38 taxa of
endemic flowering plants, the majority of which are also highly threatened
food crops, ornamentals, forest species and as medicines from many parts of
the world. Others have been introduced inadvertently to the country and have
become weeds. Some have been introduced to control previously imported
pests, only to become pests themselves; for instance the privet
robustum var. walkerii is believed to have been introduced to out compete the
Rubus alceifolius in forest plantations. (Rouillard & Guého,
Schinus terebinthifolius) among others, have become naturalised in the
habitat through intense competition. Also the regeneration of native species
are compromised by exotic seed predators such as rats, monkeys and birds.
Other vertebrates deer and pigs browse their seedlings. Because of these
factors, the indigenous vegetation is becoming impoverished, both in
numbers and genetically. Many species are now threatened with extinction.
Loss of this biodiversity would represent a significant loss to the global
For reasons stated above, the Mauritian Government has taken steps to
protect its native genetic resources through the creation of a number of
protected areas. Under the Environment Investment Program, the World
Bank funded a US$ 2.42 million project to establish the first National Park
in Mauritius - the Black River Gorges National Park (World Bank, 1990). A
new legislation, The
Wildlife and National Parks Act has been proclaimed
and the Black River Gorges National Park has been established since June 15,
1994. The park is managed by the National Parks and Conservation Service,
a department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. A
Wildlife and National Parks Advisory Council and a National Parks and
Conservation Fund, have been established to advise and provide necessary
funds respectively for the development of the park. Other areas of
conservation value have been declared as Nature Reserve ever since the 1950's.
Fig. 3 shows the distribution of protected areas in Mauritius.
2.2 WILD SPECIES AND WILD RELATIVES OF CROP PLANTS
Many of the wild native plants from Mauritius could be of economic value.
Several species may have great ornamental value (e.g.
Bakerella hoyifolia in
case of dyspepsia and flatulence,
Erythroxylum laurifolium for nephritic spasm
Toddalia asiatica for cough and influenza and many others)
et al., 1983). A high number of endemic plants are also noted
for their use in traditional pharmacopoeia and unfortunately many are highly
endangered (Appendix 3). The Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius is
carrying out a project on medicinal and aromatic plants of Mauritius and
Rodrigues, as part of a regional project under the aegis of the Indian Ocean
Commission. Over and above the computerised database, including
ethnobotanical, botanical, phytochemical and to some extent pharmacological
data that are currently available for over 600 plants, anti-fungal and anti-
microbial; screens of some endemic medicinal and aromatic plants are being
studied. The phytochemical contents as well as the composition of the
essential oils of some of the rare endemic as well as exotic species have been
studied (Gurib-Fakim, 1991). The work on Regional IOC project has led to
the publication of a book on the medicinal plants of Rodrigues (Gurib-Fakim
et al., 1994) and a three volume pharmacopoeia of Mauritius is currently
being produced. Data are also available on the medicinal plants growing in
the Indian island States, i.e. Comoros, Seychelles and Madagascar. It must be
stressed that many of these plants are common in other countries and are not
unique to Mauritius. Many other medicinal and aromatic plants (e.g.
Eucalyptus spp., Vetiver etc.) exist but their full potential can only be realised
once a proper market study has been carried out.
Other species can provide active ingredients for drugs and pesticides. Some
preliminary phytochemical investigations carried out on a number of native
plants from Mauritius have revealed the presence of useful active ingredients.
For example, extract of the leaves of
Aphloia theiformis, a native species of
Mauritius was found to be active within 24 hours against
glabrata snails, the intermediate hosts of Schistosoma mansoni (Gopalsamy et
al., 1988). Similarly the endemic species Polycias dichroostachya was shown to
have strong molluscicidal activity. There also exists a score of aromatic plants
which are being exploited for commercial purposes and they include the Ylang
Cananga odorata), the Vanilla (Vanilla fragans), Baies roses or the
Other plants have more obvious economic importance because they are close
relatives of major crops. In Mauritius the only truly indigenous genus which
is a wild relative of an economic crop is
Coffea. There are three species of
Coffea growing in the native forest of the island. Two of them namely
C. mauritiana is endemic to Mauritius and Réunion. These species are known
to be naturally caffeine-free and could thus be of great importance in
developing coffee cultivars with low caffeine (Dulloo and Owadally, 1991).
Wild coffee species might provide new genes for improving this globally
Dictyosperma album var album. This species is cultivated to
provide palm hearts for the making of palm heart salad principally in the
hotels and restaurants.
Among agricultural crops, the Lentil Creole (
glabreceus Roxburg) is another species believed to be unique in its kind
although some species were reported in Bengal, India. It was found in the
Pamplemousses Botanical Garden and seeds are stored in the
at Gembloux, Université Agricole, Belgium. This wild species is extensively
used in the breeding of cowpea (
Apart from the above two species, which are used for breeding of two
important food crops, there are few important ones which have been
maintained and characterised. Others need to be studied to establish their
potential for improving the existing cultivars.
In tomato (
Lycopersicon esculentum), one species L. esculentum var. tallerelli
has been located in the wild but no serious work has been done although it
shows some interesting characters. Two wild species of broad bean (
lunatus) were identified - one in Mauritius (sieva type) and a second one
(indeterminate type) in Rodrigues. The Rodrigues one bears big pods with
few big seeds, which are highly toxic. It is believed that the species originates
from the Malagasy Republic. The Mauritian type, locally known as "antac" is
a small seeded one, which was previously used as food.
Wild species of pigeon pea
Cajanus cajan are also known to exist in
Mauritius. They are believed to have been cultivated in the past 150 years and
to have been introduced by Indian Immigrants.
One wild species of potato has been found and is yet to be identified and
characterised. In the same family, two species of egg plants (
Solanum spp) are
found in the wild -
Solanum torvum having white flowers and S. indicum
having violet flowers. These wild species of solanum are used sometimes for
grafting cultivars of
S. melongenea as the latter is susceptible to bacterial wilt.
Tabac marron (
S. auriculatum ) can be found in the wild.
In the fruit section wild guava
P. cattleianum commonly known as "Goyave
de Chine" can be found on the plateau and rain catchment areas. A wild
species of pine apple (
Ananas bracteatus)and banana called "banane la grain"
can be encountered in the wild.
There is a form of sugar cane,
Saccharum spontaneum (Spontaneum
Mauritius), which is known to occur in the wild in Mauritius (Ramdoyal and
Domaingue, 1995), but it is believed to be close to the Coimbatore local from
temples in Mauritius and is used in Hindu ceremonies. It is believed to have
been introduced by Indian immigrants.
In the MSIRI, the sugar cane collection amounts to 1,841 entries. They are
- Basic species and allied genera -
S. officinarum, S. barberi, S. sinense, S.
spontaneum, S. Robustum
, the genus
Erianthus Sect. Ripidium and the genus Miscanthus
- F1 interspecific and intergeneric hybrids
- BC1 derived interspecific and intergeneric hybrids
- BC2 derived interspecific and intergeneric hybrids
- Commercial hybrids
Details of this collection are given in Appendix 4.
2.3 LAND RACES AND OLD CULTIVARS
With the introduction of new and improved cultivars of food crops to
maximise commercial production, old varieties and land races are fast
disappearing. In Rodrigues and in remote places, some land races still persist.
Two landraces of bean (
P. vulgaris), local red and navy bean, are still
cultivated in Rodrigues, while in Mauritius, there is an old cultivar known as
"Long Tom". Similarly, there is one old cultivar of cowpea (
onion, the "local Red" which is characterised by a very strong pungent smell
and very good keeping quality, but it is low yielding. This germplasm is
rapidly eroding due to its replacement by other high yielding imported
For other crops, few old cultivars are still planted for commercial production.
They are tomato (var. quatre carrés), groundnut (var. cabri), garlic (var.
local), cucumber (var. local white) and pumpkin. It should be noted that the
seeds of the above mentioned crops are produced and conserved by the
farmers themselves, although the Ministry of Agriculture is making attempts
to produce and conserve the varieties.
Zea mays) several ecotypes had been collected by the MSIRI in an
attempt to preserve the germplasm and to use them in the breeding
programmes. Local ecotypes have been replaced by new hybrids, but in
Rodrigues the farmers are still growing their ecotypes. The collection is still
difficultly maintained at the MSIRI and the viability of seeds is threatened
with the existing storing facilities (Govinden & Rummun, 1995).
In the root crops sector, especially sweet potato (
Ipomoea batatas) and cassava
Manihot esculenta), many old cultivars still exist as they were used as starchy
foreign accessions from Taiwan of sweet potato and maintained
in situ at the
University of Mauritius and some at the Ministry of Agricultural experimental
In fruit crops, many old cultivars are still grown, some for commercial
exploitation and some just form part of the local landscape, e.g. Jack fruit,
Bread fruit etc. Among the commercially exploited crops, mangoes
Mangifera indica), litchis (Litchis chinensis, pine apple (Ananas comosus)
Musa spp.) could be cited. Six new lines of litchis were
introduced to the island from China to broaden the narrow existing genetic
base. There are 3†existing old cultivar of litchis - Culcutta late, Toi Tso local,
Kwan Mi Pink. A list of the local cultivars of banana is given in Appendix 5.
In Mauritius there is quite a large diversity of landraces and old cultivar of
mangoes. These are: Agnes, Agnes Labourdonnais, Alphonse, Alphonse
Indian, Ambin, Amini, Aristide, Auguste, badami, Baissac, Begum Khsh of
Muldeb, Bibi Gazli, Champo, Cheribon, Chitoor-Amloot, Christian,
Dauphine, Divisne, Dodhol, D'Arifat, Early Gold, Elise, Eugenie, Ferdinand,
Figet, Gebert, Geneve, Goa, Goa, Alphonso, Haphus Pasind, Henriette,
Irwin, Jagat Mani, Jansheedi, Jaune, Josee, Julie, Katha Mitah,
Labourdonnais, Madras, Maison rouge, Mamood, Miel, mulguava, Neelam,
Normand, Orphee, Overseer, Pairi, Petite Josee, Pignon d'Inde, Pope
Hennessy, Raspuri, Rosat, Rupee, Society No. 3, Soondarshah, Torse,
Victoria and Yone, Sabre, Lacorde, Petrole, Begumkhash of Mursidabad.
These old cultivars are planted at Richelieu and Bois Marchand experimental