The exotic necklaces made out of coconut shells are showcased alongside coconut shell bangles. The top shelf is filled with pieces made of wood, vases, containers and objets d’art.
In Male’ where shops with brimming shelves is the norm, ‘Athamana’ sets itself apart. This is the first fair trade shop in Maldives, filled only with products made by Maldivians.
“We wanted to create an outlet for people who do handicraft in Maldives, to enable them to get a good price for their products, and introduce the concept of fair trade here,” says Fathimath Shafeega, country manager of the NGO Live & Learn.
The NGO works on protecting and providing education on environment and promotes sustainable development with a fair trade culture. Their shop Athamana showcases traditional and new products created in Maldives.
Across the archipelago
Mixed within the range of traditional products like fine mats ‘Salavaai Kuna’ and lacquer ware, are innovative new products like virgin coconut oil and shoulder bags, and jewellary made from discarded denim items.
The virgin coconut oil produced on Filladhoo in Haa Alif Atoll is packaged in hand-woven baskets made out of screw pine leaves and comes in 50 and 120 ml bottles.
“Coconut oil is a new product that we are conducting in Filladhoo,” says Mohamed Moosa, vice-president of the island NGO ‘Ekuveringe Dhirun’ (ED).
The production of virgin coconut oil is a project in the northern islands organised by Live and Learn with funding from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the cooperation of the local Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture.
“We put out a notice, and from those interested we gave priority to people with low income to join this project,” says Moosa.
The team consists of 18 workers. Moosa explains that from the profit they make, 60 percent goes to the workers, while 30 percent is invested in developing the project and 10 percent is retained by ED.
“It provides a good income, and we already have two resort buyers, one of which is Bandos Island Resort.”
In the shop alongside each product the producer’s name is displayed, giving the item a personalised touch.
More to come
In the near future the shop will have lotions and soaps, made from the byproducts of coconut oil. Other items to come include chilli sauce being produced on Veymandoo in Thaa Atoll from the fiery Maldivian chillli ‘githeyo mirus.’
There are challenges in making these ventures a success.
“We have issues of transport and the fact that most communities have not been very active in production before,” explains Shafeega. As most Maldivians tend to work individually, the issue of getting them grants has also arisen, as cooperatives are being registered for grants at the Ministry of Economics. “We are working on getting grants for individuals also.”
The Athamana shop also acts as a focal point for buyers, to enable the producers to have access to the retail market. Different buyers have shown interest.
“We have some buyers including high end resorts like Soneva Fushi,” says Shafeega. The shop receives orders and helps in delivering them. A lot of effort has gone in producing the Maldivian products on display, showcased in Live and Learn’s new Athamana shop.
The participation of society and businesses will be vital to make the first fair trade shop a success, and in enable the revival of traditional Maldivian products and the promotion of new ones.