Authorities warn of imminent fruit fly epidemic

The agriculture ministry has warned of an imminent fruit fly epidemic that could contaminate fruits grown in the Maldives.

Fruit flies have been found in mangoes and water apples from the island of Feevah in Shaviyani atoll, the ministry revealed today.

“On some occasions, 90 to 100 percent of the harvest has been destroyed because of fruit flies,” said the agricultural ministry.

“Therefore, it is necessary to contain the fruit flies from Feevah and prevent it from spreading to other agricultural islands.”

Agriculture contributes to around six percent of GDP. However, some islands rely solely on income from farming.

A fruit fly epidemic could cause widespread damage to the local agricultural industry, the ministry said, and advised exercising caution before consuming fruits from Feevah.

While fruit flies do not cause any harm to humans even if contaminated fruits are consumed, the ministry advised soaking fruits from Feevah in warm water for 60 minutes to prevent the flies from spreading.

The ministry explained that the “oriental fruit flies” found on Feevah poses a threat to all types of fruits and vegetables, including mangoes, watermelons, peaches and tomatoes.

Fruit flies lay their eggs inside the fruits and vegetables by injecting its spine. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae eats the fruit from the inside out.

Contaminated fruits will appear over-ripe with large black spots. Holes will also be visible on the surface of the contaminated fruit.

The ministry also urged the public to report any signs of fruit flies in agricultural products.


Fisheries Ministry and MNDF at odds over decision to destroy confiscated pets

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has said it was not consulted by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) before the destruction of over 120 confiscated pets.

“I was as shocked as anybody else when I saw that they had killed the animals -we were actually talking to the owl owner at the time when I saw the news,” an official with the ministry told Minivan News today.

Confusion surrounded the decision to destroy the animals after a joint operation of all relevant state institutions was prompted by a spate of exotic animal discoveries in the country in recent weeks.

The MNDF yesterday maintained that the animals had been put down upon request of the police, though the police service has denied this.

The Fisheries Ministry has today argued that regulations required the presence of witnesses to the destruction, as well as questioning the legality of the termination of the owl – whose owner had claimed the animal was found rather than imported.

“On Saturday, the ministry’s stand was that if you hand over the animals to us, we would give the choice of re-export – and the fact that the owl was something that was not imported, there was an issue – it was a controversial case that had to be dealt separately,” said the ministry source.

MNDF Deputy Spokesman Captain Ali Ihusaan has refuted these claims, arguing that the owl’s owner had initially claimed that the owl was legally imported, before changing his story.

“The only places that provide this authorisation were the Ministry of Defence and National Security and the Ministry of Environment – we asked both of these authorities and we asked the owner to provide the owner to provide any documentation given by these ministries,” said Ihusaan.

After cross-checking these confiscated creatures with import records, and thus proving they could not have been imported legally, the animals were put down, he explained.

“We are not an animal farm or a zoo and we cannot take care of that number of animals at the same time,” he added. “The animals that we disposed of were not endangered species so we didn’t really have to consult with any other authorities.”

Regarding the requirement that witnesses be present for the animals’ destruction, Ihusaan suggested that this was regulation was only applicable to animals seized at the ports.

The source at the Fisheries Ministry has revealed that a letter has been drafted to request proof that the animals have been terminated, suggesting that this was important in order to halt speculation about the animals potentially being transferred to new owners.

“A lot of people speculate because that actually does happen sometimes and people really don’t trust these institutions, and that’s why I stressed they should be destroyed in the presence of everybody.”

Local media today reported that the lawyer representing the owl’s owner claimed the animal has not been destroyed, arguing that the owner will withdraw charges filed with the Police Integrity Commission if the bird is returned.

The ministry of fisheries source revealed that the outpouring of anger following the animals’ destruction resulted in anxious crowds gathering at the ministry, as well as threatening phone calls being received from angry owners – hence the official’s request for anonymity.

The official went on to suggest that they had clearly requested that all the institutions involved in the operation to confiscate the animals should have been consulted before their destruction, suggesting that the only legal rationale for their transfer to the MNDF’s mandate was that the animals had been deemed ‘dangerous or wild’.

The animals destroyed included 11 iguanas, a snake, a sugar glider (possum), an owl, a squirrel, and 105 rats.

“We did not want any of the animals to be killed,” said the ministry official.


Growing for the future: Hydroponics in the Maldives

Agricultural practices are ingrained in the traditional Maldivian lifestyle. However, Mohamed Shafeegu – Director of Seagull Maldives – argues that with space at a premium and most foods imported, the art of agriculture is at risk of being lost forever.

“They will forget,” warns Shafeegu, “before they know what to do, food security will be a big problem – it will come.”

The answer to a sustainable farming future, according to Shafeegu, is hydroponics.

Hydroponics is a branch of horticulture which uses water to deliver minerals and nutrients to plants rather than soil – allowing farmers to grow crops in places where soil is arid or unyielding.

“I think hydroponics is our future. The demand [for food] will increase with tourism, so there is a big future for agriculture. If we can plan, we can do this.”

Seagull currently operates one of the Maldives’ few farming and fishing operations on Mafaahi island – the produce of which is used to stock their cafe and supermarket in the capital Malé.

The company grows a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as making boats, keeping goats, and fishing. According to Shafeegu, this is one of only two islands that are carrying out an agricultural project of this scale.

“They said ‘nobody can do this’ – so we tried to do it”

With space at a premium, and much of the land barely arable, the Maldives is a challenging place to grow food. Currently the Maldives imports the majority- an estimated 90% – of its food from neighbouring countries.

The company’s project on Mafaahi it one of the only businesses to be growing its own food – and with 41 different varieties of fruits and vegetables the operation seems to be a success.

The key to the fruitful harvest, according to Shafeegu, is a hydroponics model which they brought from Australia.

“We studied in Australia, and I was doing engineering. We didn’t study agriculture,” revealed Shafeegu. “The reason we did agriculture was for the challenge – because they said ‘nobody can do this’, so we tried to do it.”

As well as the hydroponic system, Seagull brought in an Australian consultant named Graham Evans who helped to evaluate the business. In his review of the Mafaahi establishment in 2008, Evans praised the island’s move towards a sustainable and environmentally friendly agricultural system.

“Changes being made on Mafaahi with the introduction of hydroponics to maximize production with limited resources is commendable. The installation of the very latest solar technology on Mafaahi for pumping water from ground wells has immediate application in many locations throughout the Maldives,” wrote Evans.

In addition to environmental benefits, the effects of the Seagull hydroponics programme can already be seen in the cost of living.

“When we started in 1996, a chilli [was] 6 rufiyaa,” Shafeegu explained. “Now the chilli is around 2 rufiyaa.” Because of these benefits, people are already starting to see the benefits of localised agriculture, he contended.

Water – a precious resource

The only limitation on the potential of hydroponics is water itself, stated Shafeegu.

“We need a lot of water. Now the system we are doing in Mafaahi- we need around 2 thousand tons of water in storage. Because in the rainy season, we get a lot of rain from the roof.”

“If we can desalinate water, it costs a lot of money, but if you can go solar it will be much better.”

Desalination continues to be a huge issue in the Maldives. The lack of fresh drinking water in the country’s 190 inhabited islands – made worse with the contamination of groundwater following the 2004 tsunami – leaves most communities reliant on rainwater and vulnerable to shortages during the dry seasons.

Pioneering attempts to desalinate water using the excess heat from electricity generation have recently been launched in Kaafu atoll, although they remain in their infancy.

“Because we have done 20 years of agriculture, now the island is suffering, so we have to go for another form of irrigation. We put a line, with only a very small amount of water, given just to the roots. Now what we do is we take the pump and put water there, and a lot of water is wasted. So we have to really do a lot of quality control on the water.”

He illustrates the seriousness of this issue with a story about a neighbouring island Thoddoo, and their mis-use of water supplies.

“What has happened to this island is they have done extensive agriculture without scientific methods – what has happened now is the whole water system has gone.”

“They put chemicals in the water, and when you see people there they have white patches on them, from the chemicals – and kidney problems as well. So they are misusing because the demand is so high. And so, it [the environment] is getting destroyed, the control is not there, awareness is not there.”

The future for agriculture

Seagull is currently bidding to extend their lease on Mafaahi, which is due to expire in June 2014.

” Now we are in a very critical situation, and the water is gone now. But we can’t invest in the future, as we are almost at the end of the lease now. I think if we don’t give to us, I don’t know to whom they will give.”

“So I think the only thing is hydroponics – the government has to invest in this,” confirmed Shafeegu.

“If they don’t do that I think we will even lose the backyard farming [a traditional farming practise on local islands]. And we will not have anything to eat. Food security will be finished. Now we have a good food security based on this backyard farming, now I think it’s going to a different level.”

The Maldives has previously been described as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate-change related food security issues, due to its dependence on fish stocks regarded as likely to migrate with changing conditions in the oceans.

“They [Maldivians] will forget. I think what will happen is, they will forget even to grow their own plants. Before they know what to do, food security is a big problem, it will come,” says Shafeegu.

“But I think we can grow enough, if we can plan.”


‘Islands of Maldives’ website launched

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture has launched a website compiling information on the reefs and atoll of the Maldives.

The site – – has been developed in conjunction with the International Fund for Agricultural Development & the Bay of Bengal Programme (BOBP).

The BOBP describes itself as an organisation designed to  “provide technical and management advisory services for sustainable coastal fisheries development and management in the Bay of Bengal region.”

Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Ali Solih told local media that the site would provide complete logistical information for all islands, and would be updated with more information very soon.


Livestock import ban following anthrax scare in Tamil Nadu

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has enforced a ban on importing live animals and meat to the Maldives from Tamil Nadu in India following an anthrax outbreak, local media reports.

A statement from the HPA read that two towns in Tamil Nadu had reported an outbreak of anthrax, and as a precautionary measure the agency had banned live animal and meal imports from any state within Tamil Nadu.

The HPA has urged against using live animals and meat produced after December 31, 2012 imported from India.

“Normally anthrax affects animals such as goats and cows. However, humans can get the disease from animals. Humans contract the disease by coming in contact with infected animals, airborne germs and consuming meat of infected animals,” the HPA stated.

Anthrax is an acute disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, according to the agency.

Orf virus found in Thilafushi goat

Prior to being abolished, the Centre for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC) reported that a goat in Thilafushi had tested positive for the Orf virus earlier this month.

Despite the Ministry of Agriculture earlier stating that Orf is a dangerous virus, as reported by local media, the CCHDC said it does not pose a great risk to humans.

Epidemiologist at CCHDC Dr Aishath Aruna said that a human can only contract the virus by coming into direct contact with an infected goat, Sun Online reported.

“Humans can contract the disease from goats, by coming into direct contact with an infected goat. It’s not a dangerous disease. Only people who tend and rear goats are at risk,” Aruna was quoted as saying by local media.

In regard to goats being reared in Thilafushi – otherwise known as “garbage island” – Dr Aruna told Sun Online that eating the meat from these goats could pose a risk to humans.

The Thilafushi Corporation said the island is used for industrial purposes, and that people who rear goats in the island do so without obtaining the necessary permits.

The CDHDC was abolished by President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik earlier this month. The President’s Office confirmed that functions and responsibilities of the CCHDC were to be transferred to the HPA.

The CCHDC had been working to identify diseases prevalent in the Maldives, and to prevent disease and increase health awareness.


First vet in the Maldives seeks national animal health act

Authorities in the Maldives are currently working with international parties including as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) to try and prepare a national animal health act in the nation, a recently appointed veterinary expert working in the country has said.

Dr Jeewaranga Dharmawardane, a Sri Lankan veterinarian of some 30 years experience who came to the Maldives two months ago,  told Minivan News that alongside tending to the nation’s beloved and not-so-beloved pets such as cats and birds, he is also helping to oversee new regulation in relation to national standards on keeping animals.

According to Dharmawardane, who now acts as a veterinarian for the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, the draft bill will outline a legal framework for protecting and maintaining animal health that does not currently exist in the Maldives.  The vet claimed that these laws could also form a part of wider overhauls to help the country meet its potential for agricultural production in the country both in terms of livestock as well as producing manure that can aid crop quality.

“In the times to com, imports to the country have to be reduced,“ he said.  “The government hopes to be self sufficient [in terms of supplying its agricultural needs] by between 15 to 20 percent in the next two to three years.”

Dharmawardane said that the ministry is also looking to establish quarantine and monitoring services at Maldivian seaports for animals being bought in and transported around the country.

“It will possibly take a few months to establish this,” he said.

After decades of working in veterinary and research fields within the Sri Lankan civil service, Dharmawardane now works with the Maldivian Agricultural Ministry travelling consulting on animal health either in homes, or at the country’s small number of farms.

So far he said that he had visited “three to four islands” outside of Male’, but would travel where the ministry required him to visit.

The government veterinarian added that he “didn’t see many differences in the type of animals” that were being kept as between Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

“In the last two months Maldivians have contacted me in regards to problems within their pets, as well as concerns for goats and some on poultry,” he said.

“The types of animals have generally been quite conventional, except of course there are no dogs.”

Alongside his own experiences, Dharmawardane added that the ministry also employed a specialist microbiologist to provide laboratory assistance.

Dharmawardane said that he did not have a veterinary practice as of yet to deal with individual concerns on animal health, but worried Maldivian pet owners could contact the Ministry of Agriculture for further assistance or possible consultation on 3322625.