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close this bookThe Courier N 130 Nov - Dec 1991 - Dossier: Oil - Reports: Kenya - The Comoros (EC Courier, 1991, 96 p.)
close this folderCountry reports
close this folderThe Comoros - In dire economic straits
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAn interview with President Said Mohamed Djohar
View the documentAn interview with former Production and Industry Minister, Ali Mroudjae
View the documentComoros-EEC cooperation
View the documentExternal aid to The Comoros


Like Kartala, whose volcanic activity is being nervously monitored by scientists after threatening last July to erupt violently, the political landscape in the Indian Ocean islands of The Comoros has suffered a series of tremors in the past two years.

In November 1989, President Ahmed Abdallah Abderemane was assassinated in a coup attempt in which mercenaries were implicated, the same mercenaries who, 11 years earlier, had brought him back to power after having been ousted in a coup in 1975 by Ali Soilih. Abdallah was succeeded as Acting President by Said Mohamed Djohar, president of the National Assembly, in accordance with the constitution. He was required to call a presidential election within 40 days.

The dramatic change in government unleashed an unprecedented demand for multiparty democracy in the place of the one-party state which Abdallah had installed for over 11 years. Djohar yeilded and no less than 16 political parties came into existence, some of them with no more than a few hundred members.

In the presidential elections in March 1990, which was held over two rounds, it was difficult to distinguish the political ideologies of the candidates. There were eight candidates in all. Six were eliminated in the first round, and the second round pitted Acting President Djohar against Mohamed Taki Abdulkarim of the Union Nationale pour la Dcratie (UNDC). Although each received the backing of eight political parties. Djohar, won with 55. 1% of the votes for a six-year term as President. He proceeded to form a government with the eight political parties which supported his candidacy, giving ministerial positions to four parties and posts in the Office of the President to the other four. He soon realised, however, the difficulty of operating his personal office with four different parties. He carried out a reshuffle in which young men of his own choice were appointed to responsible posts bath in the Cabinet and in the President’s Office. That marked the beginning of President Djohar’s troubles, for he has, ever since, faced what observers have described as the ‘complicated and complex’ problem of forming a united and cohesive government and of keeping the country together, following threats by one of the islands in the group, Moheli, to secede.

UDZIMA, the President’s party and that of his predecessor, Abdallah, is determined to have all the key posts in the Cabinet as a condition for supporting the President. And it has made this known to President Djohar in no uncertain terms - clear evidence of the determination of the old guard to hold on to political power.

On the other side of the spectrum are ambitious young people, personified in the Minister of Finance, Mohamed Said Abdallah Mchangama, the President’s son-in-law, who is believed currently to be the Number Two in the regime, and who feels that the time has come for the old men who have governed The Comoros since independence to give way. There is considerable tension in Moroni between the various factions as the struggle for power continues.

Moheli’s problem is a difficult one. Neglected for long by the central government and deprived of basic social amenities and economic infrastructure, the general belief is that Moheli has indeed had a bad deal over the years in the Islamic Republic. The island had demanded and been refused greater autonomy from the Federal Government. Although the President has attempted to placate the island by appointing Mohelians to responsible positions, this has been rebuffed by the island’s leaders who have threatened, in the absence of what they call ‘dialogue with the Government’, to conduct a referendum on self-determination in Moheli. President Djohar has, however, vowed to maintain the territorial integrity of The Comoros. It should be noted that The Comoros still lays claim to the island of Mayotte, which voted in a referendum organised by the French in 1976 to secede and maintain its status as a French overseas territory. That vote has not been recognised by the United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity. The Mohelians, who call their plans for a referendum, the third and final phase of their attempt to resolve the dispute with the central government, have been buoyed by the secessionist movements in other parts of Africa. Demonstrations in Fomboni, the island’s main town, against the government have become a regular occurrence and appear to be widening the gulf between the two sides.

Attempted coup d’t

This crisis, which has inevitably led to several cabinet reshuffles, culminated in an attempted coup d’t by the Supreme Court in early August, which announced the dismissal of the President for, among other things, lack of ‘lucidity’ in the exercise of his duties and for endangering the nation’s unity and territorial integrity. Although the Supreme Court has the authority under the Constitution to dismiss the President, it can only do so on the recommendation of the Prime Minister - a post which does not exist but which is to be re-instated under the new Constitution. The draft of that Constitution was the subject of a round table conference in May attended by a number of the political parties. Not many changes were made to it and it has been sent to the President for submission to a national referendum.

Meanwhile the opposition has called for the dissolution of the current Federal Assembly which they consider illegitimate, having been elected under the one-party system of President Abdallah, and for the formation of a government of national unity and the organisation of parliamentary elections. Only by taking these measures, they believe, will the political tensions be diffused.

One thing is certain, though - with its numerous political parties, The Comoros is in for a long period of instability unless a system can be found to rationalise the situation. Democracy is proving too big a price to pay for an archipelago as poor as The Comoros.

Indeed the crisis could not have come at a worse moment for the country which is facing dire economic difficulties. For five consecutive years, against a background of a heavy debt burden and continuing budget deficits, economic growth has fallen and the balance of payments deficit has widened.

No natural resources

Nature has certainly not been very kind to these islands. Isolated, with practically no natural resources, the country is one of the most densely populated in Africa. At 3.3% growth rate, the population, which is currently put at 460 000, is expected to double by the year 2010. It is made up mainly of young people (45% under 15 years and 57% under 20 years). Income per capita is put at less than $ 300, which makes The Comoros a least developed nation.

The spiralling population is a serious cause for concern. Birth-control is hardly practised. Although The Comoros is only moderately Islamic, religion appears to be a major factor, and the authorities have not shown much enthusiasm for birth-control either. Yet the country’s population has to be reduced given the meagre resources and the fact that the possibilities of emigration which Comorians had in the past are today practically nil.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, accounting for 40% of GDP and 80% of employment. It is constrained, first and foremost, by lack of fertile land and by erosion caused by the increasing use of marginal land. Rudimentary farming techniques and low use of inputs like fertilisers, result in low yields of foodcrops.

The cash crops are vanilla, cloves and ylang-ylang (a flower used in the perfume industry). Exports have not earned much for The Comoros in recent years. This has as much to do with unfavourable world market conditions as to poor organisation of production and marketing. The sector is entirely in private hands. Farmers grow these crops in association with others and are easily influenced by domestic prices.

The Comoros, which has been growing vanilla for over 50 years, is the second largest producer in the world. Grown by about 9000 farmers in the islands of Grande Comore and Anjouan, production has fluctuated in the past five years between 930 tonnes and 1200 tonnes. The availability of synthetics and competition, especially with Indonesia, have led to a drop in price. Indonesia produces at a much lower cost than The Comoros, and as such can afford to sell at lower prices. The cost of Comorian vanilla, for example, in 1990 was 2500 Comorian francs (US $ 9.6) per kilo compared with its competitor’s cost of 1750-2000 Comorian francs.

Vanilla sales to France (which takes a third of total production) are much more secure than sales to the United States, the biggest importer, where Indonesia is making a strong showing. In 1986 The Comoros succeeded in selling vanilla directly to consumers in the United States and earned considerable sums- a one-off operation difficult to repeat because of the organisation of the market.

Cloves are cultivated mainly on the island of Anjouan and production is in the region of 1300 tonnes annually. Prices have fallen consistently in the last few years through competition with Madagascar, Zanzibar and Indonesia, although there was a slight recovery in 1990.

The Comoros is the world’s largest producer of ylang-ylang, prices of which have been good in recent years. But the country has been unable to take full advantage of the situation because of the age of plantations and poor distilling equipment. Production of essence, not surprisingly has fallen from 60 tonnes in 1986 to around 43 tonnes in 1990.

The shortfall in foreign exchange earnings resulting from the exports of vanilla cloves and ylang-ylang have been regularly made up with Stabex transfers under the Lomonvention. In the last transfers for 1989, for example, The Comoros received ECU 655 000 for cloves and ECU 808 000 for vanilla.

As the Government depends heavily on income generated from taxes on exports and imports, it has been particularly short of finance. Indeed, because of the fall in world market prices, taxation on export has been reduced from 20% to 10%. This has resulted in a worsening of the budget deficits which have always been made up with foreign subsidies, particularly from France (see article on Comoros external relations). Now The Comoros has been served notice by donors that this can no longer go on.

Isolation, a heavy burden

Despite the huge investment The Comoros has made on transport and communications since independence, the country remains relatively isolated with little international shipping calling at its port, a few international ‘flights per week and difficult telephone links with the outside world. The same goes for communication between the three islands that make up the group - Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli. These facts weigh heavily on the entire economy. With manufacturing consisting of a few processing activities (4% of GDP), The Comoros imports virtually everything and prices not surprisingly are high. Its main source of imports is South Africa whose goods are omnipresent in Moroni. Luckily the vast majority of the people - 77% - live on subsistence agriculture.

As this sector is constrained by lack of fertile soil and water, the European Community has been involved in a wide range of projects, from transport and telecommunications through to agriculture with particular emphasis on self-sufficiency in food.

Under LomII, 60% of the ECU 19 million earmarked in the Indicative Programme was devoted to agriculture. In this respect, an integrated rural development project is being carried out in the north of Grande Comore - an area with some agricultural potential. Hilly, with no streams or rivers, well-digging in this part of the island is very expensive. The EC is thus financing the construction of water catchments to provide water for human consumption and for irrigation. An important component of the project is seed multiplication (mainly maize and potatoes) and the construction of roads to improve transportation and facilitate the evacuation of agricultural produce. The results obtained so far from parts of the project already completed and operational have been very encouraging. Farmers in these areas are now producing greater quantitities of maize and potatoes, although the price of the latter at the market level is considered too high - a situation that will almost certainly improve when the whole project is operational and farmers begin to produce more. A similar project financed by the EC is taking place in the north-eastern region of Anjouan.

Overall the production of such food crops as yam, cassava, rice and bananas is up. So also are livestock production and the quantity of fish landed by local fishermen - 85000 tonnes in 1990. There is certainly no threat of famine in the country, although, according to some reports, there is evidence of malnutrition.

Communications infrastructure

The European Community has also been very active in providing The Comoros with infrastructure designed to reduce its isolation. A deep-water port in Mutsamudu, whose construction was financed partly by the EDF, was commissioned in 1985. The port, which enables vessels of up to 15000-25000 tonnes to berth, was deemed vital for the entire transport and communications network of the archipelago. To be effective, however, it was known that the port capacity of Moroni, the capital, had to be increased as well as improving a landing site for flat-bottom boats at the island of Moheli. The EC has taken on the reconstruction of the Moroni port at a cost of ECU 7 880000. This involves the extension of the quay, the construction of the police and customs offices, a park for containers and an oil terminal. The EC does not rule out doing the Moheli site for flat-bottom boats as well.

There is a plan within the framework of regional cooperation and the Indian Ocean Commission to which The Comoros belongs, to establish an Earth Satellite Station on the island. This, if realised, will give a tremendous boost to telephone and telex links between The Comoros and the outside world and will improve regional cooperation on which the country has placed a high premium for its survival. Currently, telephone links with neighbouring countries and the African continent take hours and have to go through Paris.

EC development impact

The impact of these EC-financed projects on the Comorian economy cannot be underestimated. Apart from bringing the islands closer to one another, the transport and communications infrastructure will help reduce the high cost of freight and insurance that The Comoros is currently subjected to, and this will in turn have a favourable influence on the balance of payments. They will help boost tourism which is beginning gradually to develop, thanks mainly to the opening recently of the high-class Galawa Beach Hotel in Grande Comore. The number of South African tourists arriving in The Comoros in recent months has increased significantly and this will show when figures for this year are released. But there are doubts in some quarters as to what impact Galawa will have, particularly in terms of income for the islanders and foreign exchange earnings. Although the Government is said to have a 35% stake in it and there are local employees, the hotel is self-contained and is closeted in the north of the island - in a world of its own. Access is barred to the ordinary Comorian. Indeed this was what sparked off disturbances in the area early this year.

Receipts from tourism in 1988 totalled CF 0.8 billion or 8% of exports of goods and services. Although there are plans to build hotels in Anjouan and Moheli, the industry is handicapped by inadequate international night connections, especially with Europe. South African visitors are currently coming in by charter nights in organised tours to Galawa. The other hotels in Moroni are virtually deserted and losing money.

The 100 000 or so Comorians living abroad are an important source of foreign exchange for the Government. No one has been able to quantify how much they bring in but signs of their impact can be seen around Moroni in the numerous new buildings going up. Their remittances obviously can be better channelled into development if the Government knew how. Minister of Finance Said Abdallah Mchangarna told The Courier he was planning a campaign, particularly in France where the majority are, to inform them of investment opportunities available to them at home. He would personally be organising meetings, he said.

Development options

Apart from the fish resources of its territorial waters which remain largely unexploited, The Comoros has very few options for a realistic economic development. Analyses of its soil have revealed that it is most suitable for fruit trees. Indeed mangoes already grow well but wildly on the islands. These can be better harnessed. There are possibilities for lychees, avocados, passion fruit, etc. Fruit tree cultivation makes sense, because of the need to combat erosion.

The Comoros is nursing the ambition to boost manufacturing through the establishment of Export Processing Zones (EPZs). Like Kenya, where the idea is being put into practice, The Comoros too hopes that quota-hungry enterprises already established in other Indian Ocean countries will come over to the islands. This dream is somewhat dampened by the country’s inadequate infrastructure, lack of skilled manpower and the high cost of the factors of production. The Comoros, for example, has the highest cost per unit of electricity in the world, fuel being imported at enormous expense. Former deputy-director of planning and now Presidential Adviser on structural adjustment, Abdallah Msa, says that despite the generous incentives contained in the 1984 Investment Code, ‘investors are not coming’ to the country, because of fears that their products might not be competitive in the world. It is important first of all to try as much as possible to reduce the cost of the factors of production and then provide incentives that would match or surpass any available in the region. ‘Madagascar, which used to call itself socialist, has turned 180 degrees as far as investments are concerned to provide the most liberal Investment Code in the Indian Ocean. We could do likewise or even more’, he said.


Like most of the African countries, The Comoros has embarked on a structural adjustment programme which has the blessing of its major donors, the UN. France and the EC. A financial package of nearly $135 million has been granted for a three-year programme of reform (1991-1993). The World Bank has agreed to provide $ 6 million while the IMF has pledged three loans worth $ 4.16 million as a structural adjustment facility. It has indeed already released $1.2 million.

In return The Comoros has pledged to diversify exports, promote export-oriented industries, privatise government enterprises, tackle environmental problems and above all to mobilise national revenue and cut government expenditure.

Given the constraints just analysed, it is clear the Government has little room for manoeuvre in terms of diversifying exports and creating export-oriented industries. And there is considerable doubt also as to its ability or even willingness to carry out privatisation. At the time of The Courier’s visit in September, there were no signs of any move in any direction. This should, however, not come as a surprise, given the political crisis which is taking up too much of the governments time.

On public expenditure, which has doubled in the past three years, from CF 3.2 billion to CF 6 billion, the government is tackling the issue in two ways. The first consists of redoubling its efforts to recover money due to government through taxation. It has been known to be lax over this. Indeed two years ago when it was obliged by donors to be more stringent, although more money had to be spent on collection. the government earned a windfall. Mr Msa indicates greater efforts would have to be made now to mobilise internal resources. The second and no doubt one that is more likely to be effective is the rationalisation of the civil service. This does not necessarily mean redundancies. It rather means bringing to an end the great irregularities and abuse that exist in the civil service - an abuse that came to the government’s attention recently following a census carried out in the civil service last year. The census was sponsored by the French Ministry of Cooperation. According to Mr Msa, personnel management has been so lax that people can leave and continue to receive their salaries, people can die and continue to be paid, people can figure in different payrolls. People without being promoted can, with the complicity of the accountant, receive an increase in salary’. Mr Msa says that these are elements which have to be taken into consideration before the government can resort to redundancies. ‘We have to restore order to the civil service first. We will only lay people off when we: have no other alternative. At the moment there are sectors in the service that are understaffed and others that are overstaffed. So it is a question of rationalisation’.

The picture that emerges is an unnecessarily bloated civil service, which swal-lows 60-70% of government revenues. Mr Msa indicates that if that expenditure can be reduced to less than 50% of revenue at the end- of the rationalisation exercise, The Comoros would be well on the way to economic recovery.

Augustine OYOWE

An interview with President Said Mohamed Djohar

Breathing fresh life into private investment to get rapid growth off the ground again

Said Mohamed Djohar was elected President for a six-year term in March 1990. His leadership coincides with the most difficult period in Comoros’ history. In this interview with The Courier, he talks about structural adjustment and the constraints on his country’s economic development.

· You have had, in order to right a serious economic situation, to sign a structural adjustment agreement with the World Bank and the IMF. Can the country cope with the severe demands this makes - paring down the civil service, for example?

- The drafting and negotiation of the structural adjustment programme with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are the dire outcome of a difficult financial situation of several years’ standing.

Over the past five years, our country has had many, ever-expanding economic and financial problems and they have had their effect on both public finance and our relations with most of our partners. The State has not managed to meet commitments to its main partners during this period and mounting arrears on internal and external debts, delays in civil service wage payments, declining investments and slower economic growth have been the result - a situation it would take intensive means to correct. The State cannot really cut back, right public finances, reassure the nation’s businessmen and regularly meet all commitments to all partners unless it slashes a civil service wage bill currently accounting for more than 60 % of the budget.

The problem is being tackled in various ways. As soon as I was elected, I called for a survey comparing the civil service staff lists with salary statements actually made out by the Treasury and the results of this were such that I asked France to help run our first civil service census.

We now have a proper idea of these staff. The census showed that about a quarter of them are in fact not on file, although salary statements are indeed made out for them. Some do not work at all, others have left and the group also includes staff who, by virtue of being placed too far up the salary scale, receiving allowances which are not due etc. are in receipt of sums to which they are not entitled.

This is deplorable. The wage bill will be cut, primarily, by bringing order to the management of human resources in the civil service, for we believe that substantial savings can be made without massive redundancies.

The information we are now obtaining on civil service pay together with a civil service action plan (to include staff plans) will enable us to make a better job of redeploying and using the present personnel and have the conditions in which to prepare for voluntary departures from the administration.

We aim to limit the undesirable effects of all structural adjustment programmes and relaunch and sustain development of the local private sector. This is the only way of ensuring that the economy grows fast.

The idea of State withdrawal from production and the privatisation of some State firms is to breathe fresh life into private investment and provide the conditions in which rapid growth can be rekindled, jobs created and the social pressure of unemployment relieved, particularly as far as young people are concerned.

· The Comoros’ economy is almost entirely based on agriculture and agriculture is held back not just by the fact that arable land is in short supply, but by erosion too. What are you doing about erosion?

- Erosion is caused by many things and, in our case, the main one is demographic pressure. It leads to a constant decline in agricultural output and rapid deterioration of the environment, particularly because of deforestation, which also dries up the rivers and ultimately destroys ecosystems. There is nothing new about that.

The departments involved are trying to cope with the situation by running an and-erosion campaign (spreading such methods as planting copses to boost fertility and stop the cattle wandering) and encouraging farmers to diversify their crops.

The farmers also get help with building mini-terraces, planting hedges of vetiver, pineapple and shoots of bloodwort to fix the earth and producing compost, forage and wood between the levels - a useful way of providing shade and ensuring that water infiltrates properly. Food products (manioc, bananas etc) are also planted on the mini-terraces.

· How far is production being intensified, given the shortage of land?

- We are short of land and our population is expanding, so intensification is vital, but it is only carried out by a few peasant farmers on the highlands of Anjouan and Grande Comore and only with food crops. They have a lot of problems because very little input is available and both supervision and capital are required. Intensifying also means reforming the system of land ownership in such a way as to determine peasant status.

· Reports suggest that 80% of your arable land would be better planted with fruit trees. Since The Comoros has to combat erosion and it is increasingly unlikely that it will be self sufficient in food, why doesn’t it start doing this already?

- The ecological conditions of the islands are indeed right for fruit trees, but unfortunately we still have not got past the gathering stage in this particular sector. Organisation is called for and it is one of the priorities of the Ministry of Production’s action plans, but I cannot hide the fact that we are up against a major problem of financing here.

· How do you exploit your territorial waters?

- There again the problem is financial. We do not really have the means of exploiting or patrolling our waters. We are as short of ships as we are of the training we would need to ensure a minimum of surveillance.

· Is there really any future for tourism here?

- Yes, there is. Of course there is in a country like ours, a relatively new, island country with considerable attractions. Indeed when it comes to stimulating economic activity, it should be the main contributor.

· One of the main aims of The Comoros’ successive governments has always been to break down the country’s isolation. What are the most recent measures you have taken here?

- We plan to break down isolation with four priority - measures geared to accelerated international promotion, diversification of the airlines flying out of the major European capitals, improved regional cooperation in the Indian Ocean and, of course, political stability. Flight contracts have already been signed, in particular with Belgium, at bath regional and international levels.

· How do you see improved regional cooperation?

- Before answering that one, let me remind you about the context in which the Indian Ocean Commission was set up. The founders who created it back in 1984 wanted to be faithful to the Lagos Plan and the recommendations which the international organisations had taken to encourage sub-regional and the member countries realised they needed to combine forces and work together for the development of their country and the region. Each country has a national economic and social development policy, of course, but the ultimate aim of regional cooperation is to provide a useful complement to what is being done elsewhere and I think that is what the IOC is trying to do. So we have to get a better performance out of regional cooperation by getting the measure of any weaknesses and shortcomings as it proceeds.

I believe that this is the way for our States to improve regional cooperation.

· Does The Comoros still see Mayotte as being part of its territory and how would you describe Franco-Comorian relations?

- There is no Comorian nationalist who could agitate or militate for the disintegration of the national unity and territorial integrity of The Comoros. The Comoros and Mayotte form a unit and you cannot talk about them separately. The Comoros archipelago is made up of four main islands which are geographically, historically and culturally indis-sociable. The precarious environment immediately after independence encouraged one or two separatist elements who, it has to be admitted, had the support of a powerful lobby in metropolitan France. However, in 1975, Giscard d’Estaing came out against keeping Mayotte in the French fold, while Jacques Chirac, the then Prime Minister of the present President of France, disapproved of Mayotte’s ‘frozen situation’ and Frans Mitterrand has himself always defended the unity of The Comoros.

So, on the face of it, the main French political parties, or their leaders at least, have nothing against my coustry’s unity. But by a quirk of fate, things perhaps got off to a bad start when we gained our national sovereignty.

Franco-Comorian relations, let me assure you, are sound.

· How do you see relations between The Comoros and the EEC?

- The Comoros is a member of the ACP Group and has therefore been able to benefit from various EEC schemes. The Community has also helped the member countries of the Indian Ocean Commission run a number of projects.

Many ACP countries are worried that relations with the EEC will deteriorate with completion of the Single Market in 1992 and it is up to the EEC leaders to see how to maintain, or rather boost, trade between us and provide vital support for the development of our countries.

Interview by A.O

An interview with former Production and Industry Minister, Ali Mroudjae

Realistic development for The Comoros, but first...

What are the real chances of economic development for the volcanic, infertile isolated islands of The Comoros? Ali Mroudjae, the country’s former Minister for Production and Industry, discusses them with The Courier.

· The Comoros’ production is badly held back by the shortage of arable land. What is preventing you from introducing new farming techniques - that is to say, intensifying production, and using more inputs, for example?

- There have been a lot of studies of this. We in fact had our soil charted a very long time ago. This was the basis for listing priorities and the top priority was cash crops, vanilla and ylang-ylang and cloves, which brought in a lot of money. For some time now, however, the market has been dwindling and sales declining, as they have all over the Third World. Cloves, for example, have plummeted from CF 3000 to CF 400 per kg and customers are hard to find, so it is sometimes only CF 300 even, a mere tenth of the original price.

The second priority was restoring the land, because with large-scale population expansion of around 3.3%, the threats were enormous, particularly on Anjouan. All our partners, all our funders and all those helping develop the country realised the danger and almost all of them pitched in to try and head it off. Food crops, forestry and all those sectors which could bring in money and could well take over from cash crops were a bit neglected, but the new three-year structural adjustment plan just negotiated with the Bretton Woods Institutions and our development partners takes them all into account, because unless we convert to forestry and food crops, we shall never make up our losses. Food crops make for savings in foreign exchange after all and we import something like 30 000 tonnes of rice per annum - we have managed to keep it down to 28 000-30 000 t for the past 10 years. When you see our galloping population expansion, you understand why a big effort is being made with local food crops nevertheless. But production still has to be boosted and this means planning a processing industry for, say, the food and agriculture sector and so this new agricultural strategy is very much to the fore.

· You mentioned cash crops... The price of ylang-ylang is rather high at the moment, but you cannot take full advantage of it because of the age of your plantations. What prevented you from renewing these plantations for a crop that is of such importance to the country?

- Yes indeed, ylang-ylang is one of the rare cash crops to hold its own. It’s a very special sort of plant, I think, and competition is minimal because you need weather conditions you don’t find easily anywhere else. You need the sort of rainfall which you tend only to get on islands, you need tropical sunshine and I think you need sea air too, because ylang-ylang is a coastal plant and doesn’t grow high up. All this is in our favour, of course, but a great deal of labour is involved too, because many people have to work very hard to harvest ylang-ylang and better distillers are called for if it is to be a profitable enterprise. The flowers are boiled and distilled to produce essence and the equipment which chills and condences the vapour has to be sound, with no holes or leaks. The best ones are made of copper, but we don’t produce copper and our copper machines are 30 or 40 years old and need replacing. Recent arrivals on the market use sheet metal, but it doesn’t last. We have attempted to cope with all this by inviting UNIDO to take part in a project to look at the problem from all sides. So we do have a policy of modernising machinery and boosting output. That is one of the difficulties. Another is the energy required for distillation. We use wood and wood now is scarce... I told you just now about the calamity on Anjouan. Anjouan is where most ylang-ylang is distilled and ylang-ylang is partly to blame for the destruction of the forests there, so we are looking for another source of energy with decent returns. We tried diesel, but it’s rather expensive compared to wood, because wood is free. We once tried to bring in coal from South Africa, but we didn’t have normal relations with this country and I think the trial wasn’t long enough for any proper conclusions to be drawn and perhaps we should try again. I have just tried to make contact with the authorities in Madagascar through the Ministry, because Madagascar has huge forests which it is trying to thin by clearing swathes and so on, which will mean it has to do a fair amount of felling. It has asked for FAO assistance to try and make charcoal with the timber - decent, properly tested charcoal which produces a lot of heat - and it is willing to sell us some for our distilleries. A start has been made, contact has been established and we have been visited by an FAO export and various Madagascan businessmen. We aren’t at the practical stage yet, but the project could get under way very soon.

· The EDF has financed al least one project to encourage maize production as a gradual replacement for rice. How successful has this been?

- You have to see this project in the political context in which it was devised. Ali Soilih was there at the time and he had what is called a fascist policy - between communism and fascism - because it didn’t go anywhere. He tried to clear the decks, and bring atheism to the country.

This policy had its positive points, you can see that now with hindsight, because the aim was to decentralise. But the population rejected it. This was the context in which the first big maize scheme was set up with the idea of diversifying the people’s diet. It wasn’t that maize was something the Comorians wouldn’t eat. It was just the context. When the rme changed, the project was started up again, but under a different name - ‘Maize and food crops’, it was called - because we need maize, if only to keep the livestock sector going. That is where maize can help us to be self supporting in poultry feed, first of all, and, of course, in food for the population. But the basic idea must not be to replace rice. Rice is imposing itself all over Africa because it is cheaper and easier to cook. Even big countries such as those in Europe, which have culinary and gastronomic traditions of their own, are being overrun by rice. When I was a student in France in the 1960s, we used to go miles to find a shop which sold rice - Uncle Bents from the USA it was’ then, but now you can get rice from any supermarket shelf, even in sacks. They eat a lot of rice in Europe. I’ve been to London and most of the restaurants there are Pakistani or Indian and rice is what counts there too.

· Are there any food crops in which you can safely say you have achieved self sufficiency?

- In this country, as you know, the food tradition is green bananas cooked in coconut milk with meat or fish. That is our staple diet. There are sweet potatoes too - the variety we have here is very good and ideal for the population and it is an integral part of our diet - and we also have tubers, that is to say, yams and manioc. What we want to do is stop rice getting any more popular. We want one out of every two rice meals to be replaced by local foodstuffs. That is the policy. Our market gardens are expanding because we are eating more and more lettuces and carrots and so on. We usually eat rice at lunch-time and have a lighter meal - vegetables and grilled manioc or sweet potatoes or something - in the evening. So the message is that, while we want to contain rice consumption, we realise we cannot replace it entirely as it has become a completely irreplaceable part of our diet.

· Can you hope to go in for livestock on an industrial scale, given that traditional grazing implies deforestation?

- We could do intensive rearing here provided we solved the water problem, particularly on Grande Comore. We have livestock areas there, but a hydraulic policy for the grazing land is called for. We have to get water to some places and we are therefore running projects with the EDF, installing water catchments all over the place, using the old craters you can see if you fly over the island. No digging is required, as all we do is line the craters with a thick layer of concrete, a well-tried method in The Comoros which we only need to spread. We did discover water on Grande Comore, contrary to expectations, a few years ago, so all we need to do now is dig down, although for centuries people said there was no water on Grande Comore as there were no rivers and we just had cement tanks.

· But it’s supposed to be very expensive to sink wells on Grande Comore.

- The higher you go, the more expensive it is, of course. The land slopes up steeply from the coast and the higher it is the more it costs to bore. Let me explain. There is no clay at the bottom, but seawater filters into the island through the porous soil and when it rains, rainwater filters in too. When the waters meet, rainwater, being less salty and less dense than seawater, comes to the top and can be pumped out. So there is water everywhere. You can bore on the coast without any problems, although you have to calculate carefully, because if you go too near the shore you could end up with brine. But you don’t have much choice.

· There is still one resource you haven’t exploited - -the sea. What has been achieved in this sector lately?

- That brings us to something which is of particular concern to me. When I went to the Ministry of Production, I realised there was a big drawback to our production policy, because, with cash crops losing their value, some way of compensating had to be found and, in my opinion it had to be found in the sea, in fish. Our waters are full of fish. We have huge amounts of tuna. There are seasons when one fisherman can bring in 20 tuna all by himself - that’s a huge amount for one person - and we have a red fish called sebastis marinus, for example, very expensive fish, as well. This is where we need a policy, the master plan for the development of our fisheries which is wanting at the moment. So there is work to do in this sector. When I arrived at the Ministry some time ago, one or two very efficient projects were already under way. There was an artisanal fishing scheme, for example, to update the tools used by traditional fishermen, who were still fishing from hollowed-out tree trunks with outriggers and paddles. It tried out seven metre fibreglass boats fitted with motors so fishermen could get to the fishing banks quicker and it tried installing rafts all around the islands so the fishermen could be guided by them and save time and fuel. We should also like to have refrigeration facilities for this project near the fishing zones and fishing villages to keep the fish fresh. Thanks to Japanese cooperation with our policy, we now have a school of fisheries, which is teaching extremely interesting fishing techniques. The upshot of the artisanal fishing drive is that there are more and more fish on the Comorian market. There is no shortage nowadays. The problem is keeping it so the market can be regulated and the fish marketed, because we have plenty of it, even enough to export, if only in the region as Seychelles does. We are also looking at the possibility of moving over to semi-industrial fishing with large vessels which can process the catch on beard. That is phase two, non-artisanal fishing, and phase three is a preserving plant to process tuna locally and market it outside.

This is one way of boosting our income from fishing. Another is farming shrimp. I don’t know how good it is, but we are planning to follow in the footsteps of a lot of other countries and go in for shrimp farming. At all events, a French firm has applied to come and run trials and we agreed immediately, so they will be arriving to get their tests off the ground any time now. We also have crawfish at great depth, not for export, but for local consumption - there would be plenty for our expanding hotel and tourist sector. So, those are the different sides of our fishing industry - tuna, shrimp and crawfish.

We can also breed fish in the sea itself, as Moh has little islands where we can make what amounts to a big aquarium - the Japanese are very good at this sort of thing - and raise one particular kind of fish, sebastis marinus, the red fish I mentioned just now, and market it in the region, on Rion, where they are very fond of it. All this is part of our fisheries development policy. With studies and research, we need more and more big specialists, because this is a sector where amateurs are not wanted. We have to join much bigger units, because a little country like The Comoros cannot afford all the infrastructure it needs for surveillance of the coast, territorial waters and exclusive economic zone. There is a regional organisation, the Indian Ocean Commission, and we have a fisheries association called the Indian Ocean Tuna Association, which is financed by the EDF as part of its regional cooperation efforts. We have laid the foundations for a regional association in the greater region, going from India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives over to Madagascar, The Comoros, Seychelles and Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique, about 11 countries altogether. We got together in Seychelles recently to see just how far collaboration could go’ because the Tuna Association aims to evaluate the region’s potential and do some research into the way tuna behaves there and so on. But some sectors which are of economic interest to us are not dealt with by the Association - the surveillance of our waters, for example, marketing and the infrastructure required to process the fish on the spot. We nonetheless think we should have a big association like the one they have in the South Pacific, which has had some very interesting results. It will enable us to swap ideas. A fairly large source of information is of benefit to small countries like The Comoros, we think, and will mean we can exploit our resources very soon.

Something else in the fish sector which is already working is the royalties we get from the agreements we sign with the EC for European vessels - traditionally French and Spanish and this year one or two Portuguese ones too - to come and fish in our waters. The same agreements have been signed with virtually every country in the region. We receive royalties, but we believe we can go on authorising European vessels and have our own ships out there as well, just one or two, to try and boost the local catch.

· You have a great deal of experience in the Government of your country. How do you see The Comoros’ economic future?

- The Comoros’ economic future is very simple. As I see it, everything has to come from the Ministry of Production and Industry where I used to be. When President Djohar asked me to join his Government, I said I would do so on one condition - that I could have that particular department, because that was where I thought there was something to be done. You need firm opinions in that department. You need determination, because it’s a large ministry and it has many tentacles. By the time a new Minister has found out about all the links and the different sectors and so on, he’s gone. That is the truth, sadly, although I think (I may not be in the Ministry of Production now, but once you are familiar with it... ) there is still a lot that can be done, because there is livestock and there is agriculture, although these are things that take time. If we were to launch, say, a fruit policy, it would take at least five years if we got started now. Firm structures have to be set up, so that even if a new Minister does turn up, he can’t alter anything. There has to be someone who is committed enough to do the basic job, which is all over once the policy is launched. Ministers may come and Ministers may go, but they will follow what has been laid down. It’s like ylang-ylang. The plants are there and they don’t alter and all we have to do is harvest and sell.

It’s a pity, but just when conditions seemed right, because our development partners realised that a lot of thought was called for in this sector, they paid for a study which the Comorian Government wanted with a view to the agricultural strategy. The study is virtually complete. It isn’t perfect, nothing in this world is perfect, but it is something we can work with. All the major questions have been asked. They perhaps haven’t been answered in enough depth, but our technicians are ready to add what is necessary and so we can add our own ideas and changes to the document.

We have to take action in the three sectors. We have talked about fish, but we have to deal with food crops too, because food crops can be exported and they stabilise the diet. I forgot to mention that we have a potato project which is going very, very well and that the Comorians are beginning to eat potatoes. We can export bananas and yams, for example. There is a fast expanding African community in Europe which is crying out for things like that, for manioc leaves and various selected products which can be exported. Cash crops exist; something has to be done before we can launch all those products, be they cash crops or be they food crops. We have to have agricultural credit facilities. We have to have them because there is not one single institution which deals with them. Marketing has to be properly organised because we are islands and we have the problem of transporting goods from one island to another. Moh is a veritable garnerbouse for all these products, but they have to be shifted to Moroni, so credit and marketing facilities really have to be organised first.

The third thing for the future is processing. We have to be able to process our goods. We grow fruit here. The mango trees you see here grow naturally. We don’t even have to plant them, but now we are working to a system, because the European market is highly selective. Mali, for example, and various Latin American nations sell top quality grafted mangoes on the European market and we shall be forced to work harder, because our land, which is volcanic, is austere and hostile. Anyway, our future lies with food crops and cash crops - provided we can set the scene with credit and marketing facilities. And then we shall have to tackle agro-food processing.

Interview by A.O.

Comoros-EEC cooperation

by Benoit AUBENAS

The Federal Islamic Republic of The Comoros celebrated its 15th anniversary of independence on 6 July this year, but cooperation with the Community goes further back than that, to the early days of the European unification process-in 1958. Between then and 25 July 1991, when the LomV indicative programme was signed, the Community has allocated more than ECU 73 million in programme aid, plus ECU 3.2 million risk capital from the European Investment Bank, ECU 18 million from Stabex, ECU 16 million-worth of food aid and ECU 3.5 million assistance for structural adjustment - a total of more than ECU 118 million.

These figures reveal that Community aid is, one, constant, two, provided through a number of different instruments and, three, intended to cater for the economic difficulties of an island country which is one of the least developed nations and has the world crisis to contend with.

This is summarised in the tables.

Community aid is constant

In 1958, in the early days of the construction of Europe, the Community helped the then Overseas Territory with a development programme - active involvement which was to continue and expand in the years which followed.

Under the first three EDFs (1958-75), assistance was given with basic infrastructure and social facilities (ports, roads, education and health), but, in 1975, Community aid began to take the form of programmes and this took off in a big way, with ECU 18 million in 1977-80, ECU 29 million in 1980-85 and ECU 35 million from 1985.

In the vagaries of the international economic situation, the EEC has maintained and even stepped up its aid to The Comoros, which despite very few donors, has a constantly active partner in Community assistance.

Table 1: Summary of aid, 1st-3rd EDFs, 1958-1975 (Mayotte included)

Table 2: Summary of aid, Lom, 4th EDF

Community aid is varied

The Comoros is in a difficult economic situation. It is particularly sensitive to changes in the international economy and, having a volcano and being prey to hurricanes, is the victim of weather too.

Table 3: Aid programme LomI, 5th EDF

It has taken considerable advantage of the various means of assistance provided by the Lomonvention.

Table 4: EEC - Comoros cooperation LomII

Table 5: Community programme aid under LomV (7th EDF)

Programme aid has been provided under the successive EDFs for:

- agricultural programmes:

· maize and other food crops to counter the consumption of imported rice;
· small livestock (poultry for the table to replace imported birds);
· artisanal fishing, with a view to making more of the coastal area;
· integrated project to develop part of Anjouan Island;

- infrastructure programmes:

· roads;
· Port of Moroni;
· power supplies and telecommunications;

- social programmes:

· water supplies for Moroni; Mutsamudu and Fomboni.

Stabex payments have been made over and above this to compensate for earnings lost on vanilla, cloves and essential oils. Food aid (rice, milk powder, sugar and vegetable oil) has gone some way to making up the food shortfall which is inevitable in a country where the farmers cannot hope to feed the constantly expanding (3.4% p.a.) population and emergency aid has provided immediate help for the victims of hurricanes and volcanic eruption.

In addition to the grants The Comoros gets from the Community, it derives benefit from the risk capital managed by the European Investment Bank, which provided an ECU 2 million line of credit to The Comoros Development Bank for the period of LomII (1985-90). In 1991, all loans were committed to the building and building materials sector and to food and agriculture.

ECU 3 million has also been provided for The Comoros Development Bank for 1990-95, this time for one-off schemes in such sectors as telecommunications as well.

Lastly, The Comoros belongs to various international organisations (the IOC, CICIBA etc) and therefore gets the benefit of projects which reduces its isolation and involve it more in international life. Ongoing discussions of financing to modernise the telecommunications network is also primed at helping in this respect.

This, then, is a country which will have made the most of the instruments of cooperation which the Lomonvention offers - and, of course, made its aid management more complex in the process.

Adapting Community aid

The Comoros has been discussing the rationalisation and modernisation of its economy with the Washington institutions for several years and President Dhojar made his priority signing a structural adjustment agreement with these bodies when he took office in March 1990. The procedure began in April 1990 and ended in mid-June 1991 with a favourable decision by the Boards of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The structural adjustment programme should help with the (internal and external) public debt and the vital rationalisation of public finances.

The LomV indicative programme contains special arrangements for which The Comoros is eligible and ECU 3.5 million is to be allocated for the country to import essentials such as petrol, cement and fertiliser. The counterpart funds accruing from the sales of these goods could be used to cushion the negative effects of measures taken under the structural adjustment programme. Cooperation can provide an answer to problems of debt and State reform and the flexible nature of Community aid is very much appreciated by the Government.

In late 1989, the Commission of the European Communities decided to upgrade its representation in The Comoros to the status of Delegation, so it no longer depended on the Delegation in Mauritius - a response to the country’s oft-stated desire and to the extreme diversity of Community cooperation in the islands. In LomThe Comoros has the instruments it needs to help its development along and the recent signing of agreements with the Bretton Woods institutions will enable it both to boost this cooperation with the EEC and harmonise it better with aid received from other funders. This is an essential aspect of international cooperation and one which this country, with so few resources of its own, is making efficient use of in the field. B.A.

External aid to The Comoros

External aid (bilateral and multilateral) varies between $45-50 million p.a. - i.e. CF 15 000 million, with a State budget of CF 11 000 million.

The main funders are: - France: FF 70 million for 1991 - the UN and the EDF, with disbursals for 1991 as follows in $ million.

These figures, expressed in US dollars, reflect:

- stable assistance from the OECD countries and multilateral organisations, with $45-55 million p.a. over the past five years, a level reached gradually after 1976-79, when commitments were low;

- large contributions from organisations in the Arab countries in 1980-82, in clear contrast with the dwindling commitments from 1984 onwards and disbursals from 1987 onwards.

Disbursals (in $ million)

The other countries (China and the USSR), which are not included here, cooperated in clearly identified sectors so the real figures are actually slightly larger than those given.

Comoros-EEC cooperation in figures (in millions of ECU)

The assistance was provided in the form of concessional loans. Repayments were met in many cases, but arrears have mounted since 1986. In terms of principal, debts owed on disbursals on 31 December 1989 were CF 51.7 billion (induding France’s reduction) - 33.2 billion to multilateral partners (3.9 billion to IBRD-IDA, 5.9 billion to the ADF-ADB, 2.9 billion to the Islamic Development Bank, 1.4 billion to the OPEC Fund and 0.6 billion to IFAD) and 18.1 billion to bilateral partners (7.4 billion to Kuwait, 6.8 billion to Saudi Arabia, 1.6 billion to China, 1.3 billion to France, 0.7 billion to Belgium and 0.3 billion to Abu Dhabi). At the exchange rates of the day, this makes $185.8 million or $380 per head of the population.

By the end of 1990, arrears had exceeded CF 11.5 billion and repayments for 1991 (principal plus interest) came to something like CF 2.88 billion.

Comoro islands

The Comoros is therefore in the very delicate position of having to ask its funders for both sustained assistance with its economic overhaul and help with clearing the debts incurred for investments which did not have the desired effects. It will take proper management of a balanced external debt with bearable repayments to keep the public finance rationalisation drive going and make an efficient job of handling any further assistance.