Building Africa's bio-hub: could the tiny island in the Indian Ocean become a centre of biotechnology research and development for the continent?

Author:Ackbarally, Nasseem

Mauritius is perhaps best known for its stunning beaches and breathtaking wildlife. These natural wonders have helped make the country one of the world's favourite islands for international visitors and have allowed the country to make tourism one of its economic pillars.

But now, the tiny island in the Indian Ocean is hoping to tap into its natural riches in a whole new way. In March of this year, the country launched BioPark Mauritius, an ambitious science and technology facility that groups a range of biotech and scientific development enterprises under one roof.

"The objective is to make Mauritius an intelligent island and not just an island for holidays and leisure," said Jean Louis Roule, CEO of Centre International de Developpement Pharmaceutique, one of the companies involved in the venture.

Speaking at the launch, he continued: "Scientific research and development cannot take place without permanent exchanges between different enterprises."

Based at Socota Phoenicia, in the town of Phoenix in the centre of the island, BioPark Mauritius hopes to tap into the country's growing biotechnology sector. There are already a couple of dozen biotech companies on the island operating in the likes of bioinformatics, contract research, clinical trials, pharmaceutical manufacturing, medical devices manufacturing, bio-fertilisers and bio-fuel manufacturing.

The sector contributes around $100m to the economy and employs more than 1,300 people. Over the last three years, foreign direct investment inflows in biotech have reached around $2901.

Mauritius has keenly encouraged these developments by providing a generous package of incentives to investors, such as an eight-year tax holiday. It believes that biotechnology could not only be its own important industry for the island but could also foster innovation in agriculture, health, manufacturing and fishing.

With its well-run infrastructure, effective institutions and stable climate, Mauritius regularly comes out top in Africa's Ease of Doing Business rankings, making it attractive to investors. But when it comes to biotechnology, the island also has other advantages.

"Mauritius is the ideal place for this type of research since it is a biodiversity hot spot, a region blessed with unique plants in the world that have never been studied before," says Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, managing director at the Mauritius research and development company, the Centre for Phytotherapy Research (CEPHYR).

"We also have a...

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