Flour milling flourishes in Mauritius

by Teresa Acklin
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   Set in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa, the island republic of Mauritius, well known for its tourism and textiles, has built a reputation for fast, broad-based economic success.

   A third-world state with limited resources in the early 1980s, Mauritius has developed a service-oriented economy that continues to expand. One example of this development is Les Moulins de La Concorde Ltee, the island's first and only modern flour mill and host for the Association of Operative Millers Middle East/East Africa District 16 meeting in October.

   The mill (see cover photo) began operations in 1989 to serve a permanent population of slightly more than 1 million and an annual tourist population of 350,000. The mill has a capacity of 400 tonnes per 24 hours.

   Annual wheat grind now is about 90,000 tonnes, which is up from the 80,000 tonne-per-year grind of just a few years ago. In May 1993, construction of additional grain silos was completed, doubling the mill's storage capacity to 40,000 tonnes.

   The mill produces a French-type flour and some harder-type flour for bread, as well as bran for animal feed. About 80 artisan bakeries serve the country.

   Although the Les Moulins de La Concorde mill has operated for only four years, wheat flour milling in Mauritius originated in the 1700s. In the days of French colonization, a number of wind- and water-driven stone mills operated on the island. Wheat even was grown in the island's eastern parts.

   In more recent history, Mauritius depended solely on imported flour. The Les Moulins de La Concorde complex has allowed the country to replace flour imports with domestically ground flour from less costly wheat imports, saving millions in foreign exchange.

   About 80% of the wheat imported comes from the European Community, specifically France, and 20% comes from Australia. The mill's expanded storage capacity permits the receipt of much larger wheat shipments, saving freight costs and facilitating regional trade. The larger capacity also ensures a strategic stock of wheat in the country, which is far from its supply sources.

   Situated on a site in Port Louis where tall sailing ships once berthed, the mill and silos of Les Moulins de La Concorde rise as a conspicuous landmark. Once a magnet for buccaneers and pirates, the port today draws bulk grain carriers and container ships to its harbor, which is undergoing continuing improvements to facilities and structures.

   For example, work is currently under way on a new deepwater quay next to the flour mill. Located much closer to the wheat silos than the old wharf, the new quay will allow the unloading of vessels with drafts of up to 12 meters.