Minister for Economic Development Mahmood Razee inaugurated the Hubasaana 2011 Arts, Crafts and Food festival in Maradhoo Feydhoo of Addu City on Thursday, October 20. The festival, which was organized by Ministry for Economic Development (MED), will be a platform for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME).
The fair, which runs through October 22, is the culmination of a yearlong pilot project for developing local products that was conducted in the South and North of Maldives.
“The festival will showcase authentic high quality Maldivian products,” said Hamza Imad, MED’s international consultant for the project. In addition to the display of local products ranging from handicraft and woodwork to food produce, there will also be demonstrations of the making of regional delicacies like bondi (a sweet made of coconut) and kudhi gulha (fried short eat).
“The project will be expanded to other areas of Maldives next year,” said Imad.
Over 50 SMEs of nearby atolls GA, Gdh, and Fuvamulah are participating in the three-day festival, along with Addu City. Hubasaana 2011 will also be held in Hanimadhoo of Hdh atoll in early December. The event will enable SMEs from the northern atolls of HA, Hdh, Shaviyani to participate and promote their products.
Aishath Raniya Sobir, Monitoring and Evaluation Consultant for MED’s Private Sector Development Project said two Business Development Service Centers (BDSC) were set up last year in Hithadhoo of Addu City and Kulhudufushi of Hdh, to facilitate the project’s operations.
The centers provided business trainings in planning, marketing, start-up plans and technical expertise to over 5000 people from the project’s target atolls. Raniya said participants share the cost of training with MED “so that they can take ownership of this.”
Hobbies to businesses
The trainings were an important outlet for a thriving talent pool. “The islanders are very enthusiastic and talented, and a lot of time the people who came for the trainings had already been doing some handiwork as a hobby,” said Raniya.
One such person is Addu City housewife, Mariyam Naazly.
Naazly had attended various handiwork courses over the years. During a fabric painting course, Addu’s BDSC consultant gave a talk on start-up business cooperatives. Naazly said the talk motivated her to become an entrepreneur.
Joined by 10 other attendees of the course, Naazly formed the Addu Arts and Crafts Cooperative Society (AACCS), of which she is the president. The cooperative creates handicraft, like baskets of eekle broom, coconut art, bracelets from nuts found in trees and decorative items from empty rice sacks among others.
Today, Naazly’s hands are full. “We have been producing products for this fair over the past days, and we also have an order to produce 300 brooches for the Feydhoo Maradhoo schools prize giving day.”
Naazly is excited at the prospect of selling AACCS products to the resort representatives and shop owners that will come to the fair. But showing her products to fellow islanders is just as thrilling. “This is all so new here, people don’t even know what a cooperative is, I hope this fair will give us exposure and let people see the things we create.”
Discussion among islanders has innovated the crafts market.
“A participant brought a lions head done in from a pillow case, and we oriented them towards making things that exist in Maldives,” said Imad. The result was a totally new product on the market: a stuffed replica of Maldivian marine life including eels and sharks, that can be taken home as a souvenir.
The cooperative’s first workshop was held in a friend’s sitting room. Now, they share a workspace along with another cooperative provided by the BDSC. “I am also attending marketing classes at the center, for the first time I can actually make a living out of all the things I have learned,” said Naazly.
The BDSC is providing a unique professional opportunity for women, the majority of whom don’t work in the Maldives’ lucrative tourism sector due to social and religious expectations. Of the BSDC trainees, 40% have been women.
Hurdles and Opportunities
In a country that creates very little, starting a project like this had not been easy, stakeholders said. Imad and Raniya said bureaucracy and administrative work had proved to be very difficult in the initial phases. “We had to go for a change of mindset on the way people do business,” says Raniya.
But change can be a difficult lesson. “Market needs, tourist needs, we had to teach people to take this into account,” explained Raniya. Speaking of a popular Maldivian snack common in most cafes, Imad identified customer control of food as a new concept. “We can do frozen short eats, so that a person can grill it or fry it when they want to eat it,” said Imad.
A total of 60 new businesses have been started via this project, including set up of businesses and cooperatives for agriculture, arts, crafts, hydroponics, aqua culture, food processing and packaging, wood carving and goat rearing.
PADI open water certificates have enjoyed new popularity–80 locals signed up for the course. “The demand was overwhelming and we couldn’t accommodate everyone,” said IMAD. “We asked the participants to bear 20% of the costs while the government bore 80%.” Maldivians with PADI training is expected to be a huge asset to the mid-market tourism envisaged by the government.
Meanwhile, barriers between locals and resorts persist. “locals would complain that resorts had no interest in buying their product, while resorts would complain about the quality and consistency,” Raniya said.
To bridge that gap and achieve success, MED joined efforts with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Tourism, UNDP and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
“We also had a lot of help from Women’s Entrepreneurs Association, especially its former president late Aiminath Arif,” said Rainya.
MED will provide ongoing support to the small businesses via the BDSC in each region according to Raniya. “We will help draw up contracts and facilitate talks between the businesses and buyers. We also have introduced a loan scheme of 3 million dollars, for which we have already identified 40 beneficiaries.”
A bill that has been submitted to parliament could end up giving a huge boost to the newborn SMEs and change the face of the souvenir market in Maldives, which is at the moment flooded with foreign products. “If the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Act is passed, within 3 years 50% of products in all souvenir shops should be local,” said Raniya.
‘Made in Maldives’ could become a common thing, enabling Naazly and dozens of others like her to make a profitable business. Imad said, “We want to see a day where Maldivian local delicacies, could be marketed like Swiss chocolate.”
Hubasaana 2011 festival will be held Maradhoo Feydhoo Social Centre in Addu city on 20-22 Oct 2011, at the SAARC Summit in Addu City from 8-10 November, and in Hanimadhoo of Hdh Atoll from 1-3 December.