MDP condemns government’s failure to fulfil promises to fishermen and farmers

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) hascondemned President Abdulla Yameen’s government for its lack of commitment to promises made towards the betterment of fishermen and farmers in the Maldives.

While speaking at a press conference, MDP Fisheries and Agriculture Committee’s Chair Ibrahim Rasheed said that the government’s lack of commitment is clearly illustrated by the fact that no funds are allocated towards the promised MVR10,000 (US$650) for fishermen.

“Even though President Yameen has promised on multiples podiums to provide fishermen with MVR10,000 and farmers with MVR8000, the budget does not have any allotted funds for this,” said Rasheed.

The committee also expressed concerns over the high recurrent expenditure budget allotted for the fisheries and agriculture ministry while there are only three new programmes to be added to the few ongoing in the upcoming year.

The record24.3 billion (US$ 1.5 billion) budget for 2015 has an allotted MVR134 million (US$8.7 million) as recurrent expenditure for the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary debate for the proposed budget concluded today with 79 out of 85 MPs sharing their thoughts on the budget during the process.

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Maldives and Chinese governments sign agricultural MoU

The governments of the Maldives and China have today signed an agreement on agricultural and research project cooperation.

“Under the terms of the Agreement the Government of China shall extend to the Government of Maldives, a grant aid of One Million Yuan [MVR2.5million]. The Grant aid will be utilized to Agriculture Sector of Maldives,” read a press release from the Maldives’ Foreign Ministry.

Present at the signing ceremony today was Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon alongside Chinese ambassador Wang Fukang, with senior officials from the fisheries and foreign ministries also present.

Earlier this week, the Chinese ambassador also took part in a ceremony inaugurating a bilateral training seminar involving Chinese and Maldivian police officers, scheduled to take place in Shanghai this month.

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Government formulating roadmap for first 100 days to implement PPM manifesto

A roadmap for the first 100 days of the new administration is being drawn up to implement the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) manifesto and fulfil campaign pledges, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has said.

Speaking to press after an impromptu PPM council meeting yesterday (November 18), President Yameen explained that the roadmap would “outline what will begin to be implemented by the 30th or 45th day.”

“Committees have been formed and work has started on implementing what we promised for youth and fishermen in our manifesto,” he said.

The PPM’s campaign pledges include raising the old age pension to MVR5,000 a month, designating a General Practitioner to each family, providing subsidies for fishermen and farmers, and creating more than 90,000 jobs.

At the ongoing budget debate in parliament, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs have been calling on the government to incorporate its policies in next year’s budget and fulfil its campaign promises, pledging their assistance and cooperation.

Both opposition and government-aligned MPs agreed that the government should be offered the opportunity to revise the budget based on the PPM manifesto. A budget of MVR16.4 billion (US$1 billion) was submitted by the outgoing administration on October 30.

President Yameen meanwhile told reporters that he has asked Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad to revise recurrent expenditure as “more than a billion could be saved.”

Funds could be reduced from budget items in recurrent expenditures, he said.

Recurrent expenditure of MVR12 billion (US$778 million) – wages, subsidies and administrative costs – accounts for 73 percent of government spending in the proposed budget.

“We will bring big changes to the budget. The budget has to be changed to one that addresses what our parties pledged to do for the public,” he said, referring to the pledges by other parties in the PPM-led coalition.

Other parties in the coalition government include the Jumhooree Party led by business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, the Maldives Development Alliance led by tourism magnate Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, former President Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihad Party and a number of smaller parties.

The new administration was also in the process of “restructuring” the President’s Office, Yameen said, and all political appointees at the office were dismissed on Sunday (November 17).

Government ministries would follow “the example the President’s Office is showing” to reduce the number of political appointees and posts, he said.

Cabinet ministers would not formulate new policies but focus on implementing the manifesto, he added.

President Yameen also met former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom at the President’s Office yesterday.

In a statement following the meeting, Yameen said the PPM leader assured the new administration of political support and assistance through the People’s Majlis.

He expressed confidence in implementing the party’s manifesto with the cooperation of coalition partners as well as the opposition in parliament.

The focus of the new administration was on reducing costs and increasing government income, President Yameen said.

“The aim of our efforts will be to provide at the earliest possible opportunity all the services we assured for the public,” he said.

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Coconuts and sea cucumbers main course for Maldives agriculture

President Mohamed Nasheed recognised World Food Day this week by inaugurating the Coconut Planting Programme in Noonu Ken’dhikulhudhoo and diving for sea cucumbers off the island.

Recalling his 2009 underwater cabinet meeting, which drew international attention to the topic of climate change, the President’s dive honored an initiative for sustainable aquaculture in the Maldives.

For the past two years, a researcher known as Kandholhudhoo Dombe has harvested sea cucumbers in Ken’dhikulhudhoo lake and sold them on the international market, namely to Singapore and Hong Kong, MP for the area, Ahmed Easa, told Minivan News.

“Dombe did research on sea cucumbers 20 years back, and finally, over the last few years the research has become successful,” said Easa. “We are exporting quite a lot of these, and I believe that with the government’s support we have a good opportunity to develop agriculture in the Maldives.”

Sea cucumbers are bottom-dwelling animals enjoyed most commonly in Asian countries. The species is said to have nutritional and pharmaceutical values.

The government yesterday signed a contract establishing a formal cooperative relationship between Masmeeru Investments and the Noonu Ken’dhikulhudhoo island council. Under the agreement, the lake will be used for 20 years to harvest sea cucumbers, although the lease price will be re-negotiated with the community every five years.

The project comes at no cost to the community, and Dombe is responsible for any environmental or legal damages incurred. Dombe is also required to contribute a minimum of Rf 50,000 (US$3200) annually towards community projects on the island.

The contract has also opened up job opportunities. Easa said that new staffing needs will provide between 10 and 20 jobs for locals seeking employment.

“The government wants to do this properly. Currently, the community is receiving Rf 4-5 million (US$260,000-325,000) in profits annually from the project. It’s time to invest more, and we want to protect both sides,” Easa said.

Approximately 6 tons of Maldivian sea cucumbers with a value of US$12 million are exported annually. They are currently selling for between US$130-$150 per kilogram on the international market. Locally, one cucumber sells for Rf3.

All in the timing

Easa said the initiative comes at an important time for the Maldivain economy. Although leading economic contributor tourism is expanding, the Maldives’ most profitable export industry, fishing, is entering troubled waters.

In an interview with Minivan News, Felivaru’s Deputy General Manager Mohamed Waheed observed that the Maldivian tuna catch has fallen from “very high” figures in 2005-2006 “to now less than it was in 1995-1996.”

“The main thing is that the pattern of fishing changed,” Waheed said at the time. “May to August is the low season, but we can usually still catch fish in the southern waters of the country. But this season it did not happen – we had hardly any fish in the north, and very little in the south.”

Competition from the foreign market is also cutting into local fishing profits. While fresh local fish costs between Rf18-20, the same fish tinned abroad and imported back to the Maldives costs Rf11.

Noting the struggles of the fishing industry, Easa called agriculture the next big economic contributor.

“Tourism and fishing are declining, we need another way to provide income. Sea cucumbers have a bright future. All you have to do is drop the seeds in a lagoon or a lake and let them grow for eight to twelve months,” he said.

During the events on Ken’dhikulhudhoo, President Nasheed noted that the government plans to open the fisheries sector, especially the aquaculture and mari-culture fisheries, for investors. He observed that the Maldives was “wasteful by neglecting the potential use of various products of the palm tree,” and needed to capitalise on its natural and man-made resources to meet daily requirements and generate income-boosting activity.

Overcoming obstacles

The US State Department’s profile of the Maldives notes that agriculture makes up a mere two percent of the nation’s GDP, and that the soil has traditionally supported only subsistence crops such as coconut, banana, breadfruit, papayas, mangoes, taro, betel, chilies, sweet potatoes, and onions.

The report also observes that the 2004 tsunami contaminated many groundwater reserves with salt water. The U. S. government recently contributed US$7.1 million towards improving water systems in Lhaviyani Hinnavaru and Haa alif Dhihdhoo islands.

According to Easa, hydroponic methods may overcome these obstacles.

“The government is doing a good job of informing the community on how to grow products in different systems,” he said. “At yesterday’s festivities, there were stalls instructing locals on how to grow vegetables and fruits at home using these methods.”

Organic farming methods could also yield positive positive results. Island Organics Maldives Pvt. Ltd., which was founded in 2007, supports the Maldives’ first organic farm on Baa Maarikilu.

Company founder Shahida Zubair told Minivan News that the farm uses local resources to fertilise crops by composting shredded leaves, branches and coconut husk, manure from chicken, seaweed from Thulhaadhoo and Hithaadhoo, and kitchen waste.

“We have been trying over four years to fertilise our poor soil organically and now we are successful because the soil is beginning to be alive with micro-organisms and mycorrhizal fungi and earthworms,” she said. Zubair indicated that the soil results can be achieved elsewhere and will improve crop growth.

The President also attended celebrations in Thoddoo of Alifu Alifu Atoll, where he inaugurated the tele-medicine unit at the Thoddoo Health Centre, and helped lay the foundation for new classrooms at Alifu Alifu Thoddoo School.

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Rock melon project proving fruitful

Nafiza Abdul Gafoor expertly holds a rock melon in her hands, and shows the technique for cutting it. The 32 year-old has worked in the farming sector for years, and training in Malaysia last year has also made her among the few Maldivians qualified in ‘auto pot’ farming.

‘Auto pot’ is a variation on hydroponics, and was introduced to Maldives through rock melon farming projects carried out by UNDP and Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture.

“This is a very good method of farming for the Maldives,” says Nafiza. She works as field officer in the four month-old greenhouse in Gnavyiyani Atoll Fuvamulah.

Creating a greenhouse

UNDP and the Ministry of Agriculture invited proposals from interested NGOs in early 2009.

“Our proposal won as we had already found the land and installed the well needed for it,” says Nafiza, who is part of the NGO Society for Environmental Awareness (SEA).

A melon ripening in the greenhouse
A melon ripening in the greenhouse

The Malaysian experts assigned to the project did not deem the land as suitable as it was too swampy. Within three months another area of land was procured, and it took the experts ten days to set up the green house and plant the first batch of rock melon plants.

“Now we always maintain 500 plants here,” Nafiza says.

The tedious task of weeding at the onset put off some of those recruited from the eight wards of the island: “Our staff is from nearby three wards now, as the greenhouse is on one end of the island.”

The first six months salary is paid by UNDP. Afterward, seventy per cent of dividends reaped from selling rock melon will be divided among staff with the rest being equally split for marketing, procuring products, and business expansion.

The staff of 32 consists mostly of women apart, with the exception of three men.

Aiminath Waheeda, 42, is a tailor by profession and has her own tailor shop but professeses a fascination for farming.

“My children are grown up now. I have time to do this, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” says Aiminath.

After selling the first batch of melons last month she says she hopes for a better income in the future.

Planting and harvesting

“Within 58 days of planting we can harvest melons,” Nafiza explains.

The melons have to be visually perfect without any marks; this means that Nafiza and the others are careful to avoid walking near the plants once they flower, in case the brushes up against any leaves: “If you touch the plant or even brush up against it after it had flowered, there is the chance of the melon getting marks.”

Special fertilizers are added once a week to the tank that pumps water to the pots through an automated system. This is increased to twice a week once the plant flowers.

“After harvesting the melons we get rid of the plant, and plant the prepared ones the next day.”

Local supplier Happy Market buys melon from them and sells to resorts.

Misty inside the greenhouse
Misty inside the greenhouse

Expansion

“We wanted to introduce a method of farming that would also appeal to the younger generation,” says Dr Aiminath Shafia, state minister for agriculture. Youngsters aren’t keen to toil in the sun, and modern methods such as this could tempt them to farming, she reasons.

The scarcity of land in Maldives and the potential for creating high quality products is another reason for introducing auto pot production methods.

“We have also discussed it with resorts, which are willing to buy the produce if quality and consistency can be guaranteed.” Dr Shafia says linking the greenhouses with resorts is part of the project.

The pilot project carried out in Noonu Atoll Kendhikulhudhoo a couple of years ago proved to be a roaring success and is on the verge of expansion, while in Vaavu Atoll Felidhoo the green house is doing extremely well and another in Baa Atoll Baarah is already selling to nearby resorts.

The next two projects are an island in Addu Atoll and in Thaa Atoll Veymandoo. “We have not done projects in Addu Atoll and there are resorts nearby there, and Veymandoo is a farming island and we have other projects there as well,” Dr Shafia says.

She wants to introduce this method of farming to more people.

“We are willing to carry out little projects of ten pots for a small fee to those who reside in Male,” she says.

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