E-Marketplace: an opportunity to transform horticulture in Mauritius

January 19, 2022

An e-Marketplace can bridge the gap between both ends of the agricultural product chain, benefitting farmers and consumers, and contributing towards the future of agriculture in Mauritius. Photo : Stéphane Bellerose @ UNDP Mauritius and Seychelles

In 2020, over 90,000 tonnes of fresh vegetables and fruits, amounting to an estimated value of some 2.5 billion rupees, were produced and consumed in Mauritius. The trade of fresh vegetables and fruits involves farmers, auctioneers, intermediaries, delivery service providers, transformers, retailers, and consumers at the end of the chain. The market benefits and turnovers of marketing agricultural produce are significant; however, farmers, who are at the beginning of the chain, do not always get the best returns from their investment. Constraints of production, mainly due to changing climatic conditions, and poor marketing practices, are considerably reducing farmers’ share of the profits, forcing several traditional farmers to retire from this activity, and discouraging the young generation from embracing agriculture. Innovative solutions that enhance access to markets and increase profit margins are critical for promoting agriculture.

Investing in E-Market solutions could present opportunities to farmers

In the context of the unprecedented situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many producers and traders in Mauritius used social media solutions to sell fresh vegetables and fruits. A study commissioned by the UNDP under the project “Supporting an Inclusive and Multi-Sectoral Response to COVID-19 and Addressing its Socio-Economic Impact in the Republic of Mauritius”, reported that the lockdown has contributed to the rapid adoption of online shopping in Mauritius, triggered by improved services offered by e-commerce service providers. Based on expert interviews and 750 households’ interviews, a 10% to 15% increase in online purchases was observed between the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns.

The rise of e-Commerce results in new opportunities for participation in trade, but also presents new challenges to farmers and institutions in upgrading to e-Commerce competitiveness. For instance, only 2% of shoppers purchased fruits and vegetables online during the last 3 months as they strongly felt the need to choose their products themselves. In addition, the lack of logistics significantly restrained the performance and sustainability of the online methods. Some also mentioned unfairness and illegal practices due to the lack of a proper platform for trading vegetables and fruits. Another factor is that large and online distributors and fruit sellers prefer to deal with suppliers directly to reduce intermediary costs.

A first step towards adopting the “Farm to Fork” concept in the country.

In line with UNDP’s digitalisation agenda, the implementation of the upcoming e-Marketplace for vegetables and fruits by the UNDP in collaboration with the Food and Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (FAREI), is expected to transform the lives of Mauritian farmers. The e-Marketplace is expected not only to bridge the gap between buyers and sellers, but also create numerous opportunities including but not limited to: enhanced access with the possibility of negotiation leading to an opportunity for entrepreneurs to enter the field of transformation and development of derived products; development of auxiliary services such as packaging, pickup, and delivery services; and establishment of standards and norms for vegetables and fruits as well as average prices; and planned production and contractual undertakings by farmers to avoid gluts and maintain reasonable prices.

The successful implementation of the e-Marketplace platform requires that both farmers and consumers accept to use this new technology, which could be a first step towards adopting the “Farm to Fork” concept in the country.