Tapping into a scarce resource – Bottled water an expanding business in Seychelles
Water flowing among the rocks in Vallee de Mai (Gerard Larose, STB)
(Seychelles News Agency) - It all started with General Charles Gordon, a well-known figure in the history of the British Empire. Following his visit to the Seychelles second populated island of Praslin, Gordon was fascinated by a monocot tree in the palm family, the Coco de mer which produces the largest nut in the world. He believed that the four rivers namely Euphrates, Tigris, Nile and the Jordan mentioned in the bible flowed southward to an area situated some hundred miles west of Seychelles. Gordon proclaimed the forest of Praslin to be the original Garden of Eden and he thought the coco de mer tree to be the tree of knowledge.
To this day, the myth remains. The forest is now a nature park and a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Vallée de Mai and the ‘sacred’ water is being tapped in to be shared amongst the Seychelles population of around 90, 000 people and the thousands of visitors to the island nations’ shores every year.
|UNESCO Heritage site Vallee de Mai, home to the coco de mer, its clear streams is also being tapped into to produce bottled water (Gerard Larose, STB) Photo License: CC-BY
Even though statistics gathered through the National Census of 2010, 93 percent of the population of this eastern African country have access to treated water, which is considered safe to drink, in recent years there has been an increase in investment in bottling water especially from the different streams of the forest dense forest of Vallée de Mai, on Praslin island.
The most recent of such investment is Eden Springs, a business located in the second district on the island, Grand Anse, Praslin.
“We used that name for our water bottling company because we felt that it made justice to the island’s myths and legends,’ said Sanjay Naidoo, the owner of the new company when contacted by SNA.
|Eden Springs latest bottled water hitting the Seychelles market (Romano Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY
The source of the 40 to 50 thousand litres of water which is now being collected, filtered, treated and bottled is a hole under a rock which the owner states ‘miraculously never dries’.
The company expects to produce over 12 thousand bottles per day by the end of the year, most of which will be exported to other Seychelles’ islands.
Eden Springs is the third bottling company on Praslin, an island with a population of around five thousand people making it the tenth bottling company in Seychelles.
|Eden Springs is sourced from a hole under a rock which the owner states ‘miraculously never dries’. (Romano Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY
Seychelles records an average annual rainfall of 2,200 millimetres, the rainy season falling between October to April with January being the peak rainy season.
Water scarcity, a worldwide phenomenon is not uncommon in the Indian Ocean archipelago, but this is more evident during the dry season when the south east trade winds kick in from May till September, as restrictions enter into force when water levels in the storage facilities decrease.
During the rainy days streams and rivers are seen to be overflowing and even during drier days some streams cease to dry up and the Seychelles Investment Board (SIB) says it encourages investment from both foreigners and Seychellois to tap into the bottling water business.
The Board is mandated to facilitate and support of domestic and foreign investment in Seychelles.
Its Chief Executive, Rupert Simeon told SNA in a phone interview that the main constraints to undertake such a business venture “relates to standard issues” and “restrictions on the use of water from the streams during the dry season.”
|The Seychelles Investment Board says it encourages investment in bottling water (Romano Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY
How popular is bottled water amongst the Seychellois population is debatable, but they are sold in most of the shops and their sizes vary from small 250 ml bottles which is the equivalent of a standard glass of water up to bottles of one litre.
“Despite the high cost of bottled water when compared to its tap equivalent, we continue to buy it,” states one customer, who did not want to be named.
Surprisingly, most of the bottled water, usually made of plastics or polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are not littered, as a small fee is paid to those who return them to authorized redeem centres across the country.
Can water export be the next big thing in Seychelles?
“We do not have enough water to export although there has been some interest to do so in the past. We lack the quantity to meet the demand on the international level,” confirms the CEO of SIB, Rupert Simeon.
This is echoed by the owner of Eden Springs who feels that there is still a void for bottled water in the country.
“We would like to expand into new healthy range of water-based products especially flavored or carbonated water. There is enough demand for water in the country and we hope it represents our country in a bottle. Seychelles in a bottle,” says Naidoo.
|SIB says the main constraints investors face with regards to the bottling water business “relates to standard issues” and “restrictions on the use of water from the streams during the dry season.” (Romano Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY