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Mauritius: A nutra hub in the making—podcast

Exploring growth and investment opportunities in the Mauritius nutraceutical sector

Mauritius is one of the world's biodiversity hotspots, characterised by high levels of unique and diverse species. Research undertaken by various players such as the Mauritius Research Council, the University of Mauritius, the Mauritius Oceanography Institute, and private companies have revealed great potential for developing the nutraceutical sector. Farmers, suppliers, research organisations and nutraceutical companies all have opportunities to be a part. In this podcast, sponsored by the Mauritius Economic Development Board, you’ll hear more about:

  • The potential of nutraceuticals in Mauritius
  • The various indigenous plants with nutraceutical benefits
  • Productivity and return on investment for the seven most promising plants
  • Incentives available to organisations investing in the nutraceutical sector

For more information delving into the nutraceuticals business in Mauritius, visit their friendly data base at http://app-edb-nutra.azurewebsites.net/

Guest

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Dr Drishty Ramdenee
Director, Mauritius Economic Development Board
 
Drishtysingh 'Drishty' Ramdenee, PhD, is the director of the Emerging/Services directorate at the Economic Development Board in Mauritius which oversees a portfolio comprising nutraceuticals, agriculture, healthcare, seafood, energy and education. Dr Ramdenee has spearheaded the development of a nutraceutical framework in Mauritius. He is the author of more than 50 scientific publications and co-authored the book ‘Advances in Wind Power’; holds a doctorate in engineering; and has been a three-time recipient of the University entrepreneurship Award for the Bas St Laurent region (Canada). Dr Ramdenee also won the national level Force Avenir award for Science and Technology in 2012.

Sponsored by:

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Podcast Transcript

Vitafoods Insights: 00:02 Hello and welcome. You've tuned in to Vitafoods stories podcast series: the podcast that explores the latest insights and innovations, helping the global health and nutrition industry connect, develop and progress. Today’s host is Heather Granato, Vice President of Content.

Heather: 00:20 Thoughts of Mauritius likely fly to beautiful beaches, lagoons and reefs or its rain forest hiking trails and unique wildlife. This island nation off East Africa offers a subtropical climate with more than 600 indigenous species of vegetation. It's a vibrant nation with a strong and increasingly diverse economy. This combination of factors positions that for unique growth investment in the nutraceutical sector. To discuss this topic, I spoke with Dr Drishty Ramdenee, the director of the emerging and services Directorate at the Economic Development Board in Mauritius. The group oversees a portfolio covering nutraceuticals, ag, healthcare, seafood, energy and education. We started our talk exploring how Mauritius is suited for developing a strong nutraceutical industry. Dr Ramdenee, thank you so much for joining me today.

Dr. Ramdenee: 01:11 A real pleasure.

Heather: 01:12 Mauritius is gearing up to develop a nutraceuticals industry. Can you give us an overview of Mauritius and tell us how it is suited for the development of a nutraceutical industry?

Dr. Ramdenee: 01:23 So for those who don't know Mauritius, Mauritius is a small island around 2400 kilometre square in the Indian Ocean, quite near to the Madagascar and we have a big exclusive economic zone of 2.3 million kilometres square and the country's well known internationally for its tourism sector, for its agricultural sector, mostly for sugarcane and well known quality products, sandbox quality products that we explored like pineapple etc. and very specifically on the reason for which Mauritius has positioned itself to become a nutraceutical hub, let's call it an Indian Ocean Valley for nutraceutical is based one on its intrinsic values, basically, in terms of its natural advantages, such as the climatic conditions. It's very extensive and broad for nine flora, the soil quality, the expertise that we have in agriculture, but also in its potential of exploitation and the ecosystem that we have for production certification and marketing. And also, this initiative of nutraceuticals from the immersion perspective, has been spearheaded by the fact that for, for a long time, a number of research institutions in Mauritius, including the University of Mauritius, Mauritius Research Institute, among others, have done extensive documentation and research on existing products that have nutraceutical potential, and for which products of economic value can be derived. And many of which, which I be able to share with you have a number of potential in terms of wellness, but also more prominent potential in terms of regulating blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, among others. And also it links with the high level and broad, I would say perspective of government in diversifying the whole agricultural sector and increasing expatriation in the exports of our produce, so the whole nutraceutical potential has been devised as a key sector for the economic development of Mauritius.

Heather: 03:36 That's quite exciting. And certainly, in the past decade, we've seen the focus in the healthcare sector, really shifting on a global basis from treatment conditions, like you mentioned, to prevention. Do you see this trend also gaining traction in Mauritius?

Dr. Ramdenee: 03:52 I think just before going into the Mauritius aspect, I think it's good to have a highlight of the global market of nutraceutical and how it's moving forward. So in 2020, for example, the global market for nutraceuticals was around 234 billion of USD and expected by 2027, it will we go to 389 billion USD, so the growth potential is there and it just gives a high perspective of the trend of moving from traditional treatment-based health care to those who are much more supported by prevention. And with the COVID-19 pandemic, the word immunity has become the new buzzword and the demand for nutraceuticals across the globe has increased manifold and this trend has been also been witnessed in Mauritius naming the changes that we have experienced in terms of lifestyle, and the importance that people are also giving to the capacity of regulating and controlling already existing chronic diseases and others like diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular etc. The market size in Mauritius specifically is bound to increase with regard to the ageing population in Mauritius and also an increase in the quality of life where people are more inclined and more interest in having a very, I would say, high end and health conscious lifestyle where health supplements is extremely important. And we have to admit also that in Mauritius, unfortunately, we have a high prevalence of certain non-communicable diseases like diabetes, where the whole concept of prevention is essential. So thereby the whole aspect of nutraceuticals from the food supplement perspective, and awareness, consolidating perspective is extremely important. And thereby, again, the nutraceutical segment, the development potential is both fuelled by the export potential production, potential as an economic perspective, but also driven by the demand that would be increasing in Mauritius and also from a global perspective.

Heather: 06:00 You gave us some great context there around this opportunity from an economic point of view. When we're looking at Mauritius, does Mauritius have a conducive ecosystem in place to welcome foreign countries in the nutraceutical sector?

Dr. Ramdenee: 06:14 Yeah, I think that's a very good question. And just before going specifically into the nutraceutical segment, I think it's good to give an overview, so of the business climate in Mauritius. So Mauritius is among the top 20 countries in the world for the ease of doing business, namely, last year, we were positioned 13th globally and first in Sub Saharan Africa. We are also ranked among others in the innovation index, the Global Innovation index, first in Africa. And those two aspects have been justified, namely by the fact that we have a very open, I would say, economy with regard to attracting foreign companies and in Mauritius there is no distinction between a friend company and a local company. The fact that whatever company is registered in Mauritius has the same incentives and the same recognition. And when we come to the aspect of career fairs of creating a company in Mauritius is extremely easy. And there are a number of incentives that are provided to foreign entities and we'll come to that. But other that when we talk about now the conducive ecosystem, specifically, with regard to the purpose of developing a nutraceutical segment, I was talking about the research institutions that have been generating enormous amount of data over the last years that have created databases that can be made used by foreign entities who want to develop that segment to develop products, I think that is one of the first most important most intrinsic value that Mauritius is offering from a more resource based perspective. The second thing also, that is very important in terms of the conducive ecosystem that Mauritius provides, is from the aspect of the regulatory framework also. I think that in terms of the development both from a company perspective, the facilitation that is provided in developing the company, in supporting the company, in getting the adequate workforce in Mauritius where and as needed in terms of specialised workforce, but also from a regulatory aspect for the purpose of nutraceuticals. Whereby under one roof, for example, here, the EDB provides coordination with the Ministry of Health as and when required, the Ministry of agro industry and all the institutions that are directly or indirectly linked to the food aspect and also to the, let's call it the supplement aspect to supporting wellness. These are all the ecosystem, I mean, that is, that has been created over the years. And for more broad perspective also, I think the high recognition of Mauritius from being a beacon of political social economic stability, has also helped the country, 1) to become one of the highest per capita income in Africa, and also being able to provide a segment and a panoply of incentives fiscal and others to support the growth of foreign companies and entities in Mauritius. And finally, when it comes to the export strategy, the production and I think it's important to mention also, Mauritius has a 1.3 million population. So, it has always strive to develop strategies such that its market is not only Mauritius, the marketer Mauritius is Mauritius and is the world, Africa being one but everyone. So there, there's number of support mechanisms in terms of rebate on exports, but also on having specific trade agreements with a number of big markets, whereby the entrance of products specifically nutraceuticals can be more easily envisage on those big markets.

Heather: 09:49 That's exciting. I guess there are a lot of opportunities then for Mauritius in the nutraceutical field.

Dr. Ramdenee: 9:56 Yes, in terms of the opportunities, I think that again, I think in two parts, first from the perspective of the captive market, the opportunity from a perspective of more the captive part and the intrinsic value. So, of course, there is the part that we have discussed in terms of the shifting of the consumer behaviour. So, as we mentioned from a more, I would say transient medicine to a more preventive and wellness focused one. The opportunities also in Mauritius in terms of the nutraceutical development is based on the availability of scientific information on nutraceutical plots. So I'll be able to go into more details later on, when I share with you about the full nine flora what has been done. So, basically, we are not only saying that we can do nutraceuticals. The opportunities are the basis of very specific knowledge about the plants, the availability, the growth potential, and even the financials behind the production. So, from a purely intrinsic resource perspective, it is very much well defined. And this is also linked to the broader perspective of Mauritius being known for having very rich biodiversity of plants, of both terrestrial and marine resources. And also in terms of the market, as we were saying, in Mauritius, we are having a rise in the age, we having an ageing population. And on the other hand, the working population is becoming more and more conscious about the whole aspect of wellness so that the captive market is there is increasing, and also the potential use of these against, unfortunately, the rise in the number of people with chronic diseases. And those opportunities are further fuelled from less captive perspective to a more export perspective in the sense that in Mauritius, we have a whole ecosystem that drives the support and the recognitions of good manufacturing practices, for example, that enables the exploitation of products one; second, a number of free trade agreements that facilitate on one hand, but also from a more fiscal perspective as it's the entrance products on duty free markets, beat on Europe, on Main Asia markets, India, China, and also on the whole African continent. So this gives a whole spectrum of opportunities from a foreign perspective, but also a national perspective to develop and to, I would say, value the rich biodiversity into commercially significant products that can be exported and used.

Heather: 12:24 From your perspective, what is the economic development board done so far to turn Mauritius into a nutraceutical hub?

Dr. Ramdenee: 12:31 First and foremost, I need to highlight what is the Economic Development Board. So, the Economic Development Board is the economic arm of the government of Mauritius and is a facilitator for the development of all the segments and this work that has been done into developing Mauritius into a nutraceutical hub has been done in and I have to highlight in collaboration with all entities here, or the Ministry of Health Ministry of agroindustry. And through this high strategy of government in developing this segment, the EDB has strategize the efforts of all the institutions, and we have worked with a group of experts, headed by Professor Bahroun, who is actually the actual chief executive officer of the Mauritius Research and Innovation Council, with the support of international experts like Professor Okezie Aruoma, from the University of California. And what has been done, I would try to resume it in a just is that the whole nutraceutical segment was happening, but let's say in a less structured way. So, to be able to move from this more, I would say informal way of moving in that segment to a more strategic perspective, a more result oriented one. First, what has been done is to create a curated database of plants, of species that have the highest potential of deriving products with nutraceutical properties. And there has been extensive work that has been done if I'm not wrong, 166 scientific articles that have been looking to analysing and developing a database of 126 plant species that have nutraceutical products. So, this database is available for use. And from there derive, I would say, five specific products, very specific that has the highest potential from not only a nutraceutical perspective, but also a production perspective. And this is where I think the Economic Development Board has played a key role together with the other institutions. It's that from a perspective of a developer, from a company, what they would like to know is, first, what land is available, and what is the agro climatic properties attached to the available land and what is specifically the type of products that can be cultivated on that land. And from those data be able to derive a return on investment that captures both the operational and capital investment. So, this has been done with all the experts that have mentioned, so today we have not only I would say strategy for nutraceutical, we have a business plan for nutraceutical, we have a business plan that can be suited for distinct companies and four distinct products. So, we can offer to companies and tell them, you know, you can derive x product, a powder from papaya, for example, a powder from moringa whatever it is, and we can tell them where to plot it, how to plot it, what are the production characteristics, and what is the return on investment. So, the strategizing of this whole business plan for Mauritius and for the companies has been so far, I would say the biggest implication of the economic development board.

Heather: 15:52 That's already a lot, but I'd love to know, are there any incentives for companies that are interested in setting up in Mauritius?

Dr. Ramdenee: 15:59 There are many incentives in Mauritius for companies, but I tried to stick specifically to the nutraceutical segment. So today, if a company wants to structure in the nutraceutical segment, they will be entitled to an eight-year tax holiday. So for eight years, they won't be paying income tax. Second thing also, we do have what we call a smart Mauritius Innovation Development scheme, which provides also for VAT exemption. So those are the two I would say the biggest chunk of fiscal incentives that are provided. And moreover, it's important to know that taxation on export derived revenues is at 3%. So, moving forward over the eight years. And also, in terms of more, I would say resource-based incentives. As I've mentioned before, the database of products is available, the database of land that is available, can also be provided to the companies. The return on investment and the business plan that has been worked can also be provided to the companies, and the economic development boards very important acts as a one stop shop for the companies for all their requirements speed in terms of clearances, regulatory problems, and even to facilitate interactions with all the both local authorities but also for their onward strategy for exploitation.

Heather: 17:23 Well, you've teased out a lot about the opportunities from the local flora. I'd love to hear a little bit more about that now. Are there any plants specific to Mauritius that have proven health benefits?

Dr. Ramdenee: 17:35 Well, yes, that is specifically the driving force and the inspiration of coming forward with this nutraceutical framework. So, it's very difficult to go on all the different plants and everything. But as I mentioned, we do have a database of 126 plants that are available in Mauritius that have nutraceutical benefits. But I like to ponder and focus a little bit on the specific plants that have the highest, I would say economic perspective from the experts that we have hired in terms of production, global requirements and local requirements. And that it's very important to mention that some of the plants that I'm going to talk about are plants that are known, but there are specific varieties in Mauritius that have specific let's call it photochemical biological activities that provide for the nutraceutical properties and derivatives. And also specific I would say production lines and final products like powders that can be used. For example, among the five most promising highest-ranking plants we have the moringa; the papaya that can be used as a whole fruit as a pulp, but also as powders both for the leaves, for the pulp, for the ripe papaya, the green papaya, the seeds can be used also for cosmeceuticals. Strawberry guava, and this is quite interesting here because in Mauritius, we have quite a lot of strawberry guava. They are all organic, I would say they are kind of produced on a permaculture basis. So those can be used for production of essential oils, infusion from the leaves, powdered again, and they have high properties in terms of anti-diabetics and anti-inflammatory. The specific tea in Mauritius, they are extremely rich in polyphenols, theanine and other kinds of let's say active ingredients. And this is mainly on the fact that the tea plants in Mauritius are old tea plants and they have over the years have a higher concentration ratio of those kinds of properties that can be used for example, having capsules extracts, again cosmeceuticals that have properties namely for anti diabetes. Mauritius is a big exporter of high value pineapple and the research have shown also that they also with regard to their content in bromelain, probiotics, polyphenols, again, high potential for nutraceutical capacity. And beyond those five, the specific pomegranate that we have in Mauritius, the noni have the potential of creating exciting products on known land capacity and production capacity. And some of them have return on investments, which hit the 100%. And I think it's also interesting to mention that beyond this potentiality in terms of plant products, even though Mauritius is small, it's important to make a mention also to companies that have never been involved in Mauritius, there is quite an impressive amount of land available in Mauritius for agricultural purposes, both abundant land that are held by government, but also land that has already been structured by private entities, and already to be used lease out or sale for the purpose of nutraceutical development.

Heather: 20:56 Very exciting for sure to hear about that very narrow number of flora compared to the wealth that you can find in Mauritius. So, when we're looking at these plants, how can investors then help support the large-scale development of such plants?

Dr. Ramdenee: 21:14 There are two avenues I would say or a hybrid of the two investors can be interested in cultivation and manufacturing also a hybrid of both and further to that, I think there are still opportunities also in terms of research that can be done to further optimise the use of those products. So yes, growers are gradually moving out in Mauritius, out of sugarcane cultivation. So, there is a potentiality of using those lands again, by investors now to produce new segments nutraceuticals, namely, that have high value addition, and huge potential for sale and exports. And also, we have to mention that beyond the land that are being shifted from sugar cane, there is also land that has been made available by big landowners and at a known price with lots of predictability in terms of the whole, let's say commercial aspect, the availability of water and utilities that can be used. So basically, even at a large-scale development perspective, there is land that can be made available, and I will say plug and play basis where people can come, start the operation, and they can fix themselves both. As I mentioned on the national level, I would say business plan that we can propose, but also to tie up with companies, even private companies here in Mauritius, which are specialise in research and to move even higher, I would say, value type of nutraceutical production. And in terms of manufacturing also, in Mauritius, there's a number of incentives that are provided for the manufacturing space being in terms of fiscality, in terms of ability of utilities, and support in terms of export. So there's a high potential also for investors to set up storage facilities for nutraceutical products, raw ones, and also for basic manufacturing in terms of dry freezing and capsulation. But even moving further, in more higher added value manufacturing, terms of powder, stabilisation systems, and even high value labelling and packaging.

Heather: 23:25 Well, Dr Ramdenee, thank you so much for this really interesting overview of the opportunity in Mauritius. Do you have any final thoughts for our listeners?

Dr. Ramdenee: 23:35 Thanks Heather, it was a great time to speak to you. And I think final thought, you know, we always say that I think many people don't know Mauritius small island. But this island succeeded over time to be recognised per in the Indian Ocean for sugarcane, moving later into tourism, textiles, financial services, ICT. And I think today, government is having a lot of focus in biotechnology. And I'm sure, and I so wish of all of us and it's also with this wish that we welcome all investors, promoters, and anyone who would be happy to look into a nutraceutical segment, to see that the island transform also into becoming the value of nutraceuticals for the Indian Ocean.

Heather: 24:18 Thank you, great thoughts and appreciate your time today.

Dr. Ramdenee: 24:21 Thank you very much Heather.

 

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