Food Security in the Context of COVID-19: The Public Health Challenges | The Case of the Republic of Mauritius

Mauritius is a refutation of the proposition that food self-sufficiency at all costs is the way to achieve food security. Mauritius, a trade-dependent island economy, imports around three quarters of its food consumption. It is food self-sufficient in only local vegetables and fruits. Post-independence governments have succeeded in virtually eliminating extreme poverty. Mauritius has grown at an annual average of 5.3% or 4.4% in per-capita terms for decades, and has built a comprehensive social safety net and a public health system for universal healthcare. The food security of its people has thus vastly improved. Mauritius was a monocrop, agrarian, low-income country at independence in 1968: GNP/cap was around $260. Today, it is classified as a high income country, with GNP/cap of $12,740 (2019). It has no precious minerals like South Africa, or rich natural resources like its nearest African neighbor, Madagascar. The 1960 report to the government by Meade and Tittmuss held out bleak prospects for Mauritius. According to James Meade (1961), the “outlook for peaceful development [of Mauritius] is weak”. But Mauritius has defied all expectations. Instead of precious minerals and natural resource abundance, Mauritius has drawn upon its political economy and institutional assets, in particular, macro and political stability and the rule of law, zero risk of expropriation, enforcement of private property rights, and respect for intellectual property. In addition, leadership shared the vision and commitment to building a prosperous and inclusive multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural society. At independence, Mauritius was on the brink of economic collapse. Instead of divisive politics, the coalition government united behind fundamental reforms to transform Mauritius from a sugar-dominated, inward-looking economy to a diversified, trade-oriented economy. It skillfully used its trade preferences in sugar and textiles to fund its diversification. Its reforms improved equality and economic opportunity through broadly shared growth. Today, Mauritius faces new challenges. It has to operate in more globalized and competitive world economy, without its trade preferences, with the dire predictions of climate change and with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, its past achievements and current response have enabled it to effectively contain the damage from COVID-19.