The UK-based Little Growers foundation has launched a project with Maradhoofeydhoo school in Addu City in an effort to teach school children how to grow food using modern hydroponics.
The foundation is the initiative of a company called AutoPot, which provides self-watering hydroponics technology to schools across the UK. The system, invented by British inventor Jason Ralph-Smith, is gravity-fed and works without electricity, and can be left unattended for weeks at a time.
Little Growers UK and the local distributor of AutoPot hydroponic systems, Mahaadheebu, have already launched the project at Maradhoofeydhoo school and Hithadhoo school, and will soon be expanding the project to Feydhoo school and schools in Male’.
Mahaadheebu’s Managing Director Mohamed Zahid explained to Minivan News that the set up consisted of a 10 AutoPot hydroponics setups and a 10 foot by 6 foot polytunnel greenhouse, “ready made in the UK and assembled at the schools. It has a zip cover that can be unziped on sunny days and zipped up on rainy days,” he said.
The foundation had enlisted students at the environment clubs of the various schools, and actively engaged them in growing fruit and vegetables with a view to making an income – potentially by supplying local resorts. Students are growing tomatoes and long beans.
Transport remains a problem for large-scale commercial growers, with the high cost of cargo transport in the Maldives eating into margins. However hydroponically-grown produce, Zahid expained, fetched up to three times the price of that cultivated on land.
“When the fruit is healthy and nourishing it has better flavour and smell,” he said. “In Addu there are two tourist resorts that do not get enough local supply and import produce like tomatoes that can be grown locally. The school children will be able to grow a good-quality harvest and sell it to the resorts.”
Agriculture in the Maldives faces a large number of practical challenges, not the least of which is lack of both expertise and arable land – factors which compel most of the country’s resorts to import large quantities of easily-grown staple vegetables such as tomato and lettuce from overseas at great financial and environmental cost.
“In the Maldives there is little land available, and the land that is available is not fertile,” Zahid explained. “One solution is something like AutoPot, which allows schools and communities togrow fruit and vegetables in a very small area at little expense, and profit from the harvest.”
Since launching at the beginning of 2010, six customers had inquired about established large-scale greenhouses for growing high-quality fruit and vegetables, he said. Several resorts had also contacted the company looking to expand small garden setups into hydroponic stations that could grow herbs and other fresh produce.