Who said the only natural resource Maldivians have is the sea and its bounties? Women of Thaa Atoll Veymandoo have proven that local communities have more options to earn an income; they have launched the first ever sauce product in the country, ‘Maldives Chilli Sauce’!
Just a few years back, the small islands of the archipelago did not allow a wide range of plantations to be cultivated. Farmers struggled through experimentation to nurture large farms that would pay off financially to impoverished families that were left homeless after the 2004 Asian tsunami. Veymandoo was crippled by the disaster as well, but is now almost completely recovered.
The popularity of farming escalated in this period, when locals discovered they could not survive only by fishing. The introduction of biochar as fertiliser was a major breakthrough, and the introduction of hydrophonics and training programmes on farming improved the knowledge base of local communities. Finally, Maldivians were able to earn an income through farm produce. Chilli plants are one of the most popular options.
It was after months and months of lovingly tending huge farms of chilli that the women of Veymandoo were finally able to roll up their sleeves to prepare the first ever 100% authentic Maldivian sauce. The flavor is fresh and powerful, and would most probably be the most popular product on the market. The sauce was launched by the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, coinciding with the fasting month of Ramadan.
“This is a great example of how women and local farmers can make money off what Maldives is good at. This not only increases incomes, but empowers women,” said Andrew Cox, UNDP Resident Representative. The initiative to begin manufacture of local sauce was led by UNDP’s “Support to Integrated Farming” project, which addresses the high level of unemployment among women and youth by strengthening the sustainability of agriculture activities.
To give women and unemployed youth a chance to take matters into their own hands through entrepreneurship, the project aids in value-addition techniques, new technology, and business development in agriculture, particularly by promoting private sector partnerships. The project is jointly funded by the United Nations Development Programme, and the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture in collaboration with NGO Live & Learn Environmental Education Maldives.
Since farming techniques were perfected recently, there was a farming fever throughout the archipelago. While much of the produce were shipped to the capital Malé or sold in the atolls, heaps of produce went to waste for different reasons. Many are rotten by the time they reach Malé after hours, and sometimes a day or two of jostling, on sea. Dr. Aminath Shafia, Minister of State for Fisheries and Agriculture, said that this issue was considered and scrutinised by the government, the conclusion being that the extra produce has huge potential of being resourceful.
“Processing and packaging seemed an ideal solution to this, so when the chilli sauce proposal was borne, it meant that the project would also create the avenue we have been seeking, to bring women out into the workforce and into the economic forefront,” said Dr. Shafia.
With a new found drive for business, the women of Veymandoo are selling off crate-fulls of the local chilli sauce, and hope to expand endeavour even more. They hope to see their product lining the shelves in Malé and other atolls, and are anticipating the day new products are introduced under their brand. Being the pioneer in this new breakthrough in farming, the women of Veymandoo will be a ray of hope for farmers on every island. UNDP and the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture are planning to replicate the success of this project in the South of the country.
Fathmath Shafeeqa, Country Manager of Live & Learn (the implementing partner of this project) is confident that it will work out very well: “Maldivians love their chilli, and although chilli sauce is widely consumed, it is imported from other countries. As we have the githeyo mirus (a very hot variety of chilli grown locally) with its distinct flavor that is so popular, we thought that if we could capture this unique taste in a chili sauce, it would have a considerable market potential.” Live & Learn aid the local women through funding received from Soneva by Six Senses.
Resorts play an important part in contributing to the local economy as well, with the new policies that enforce responsible tourism being implemented at a growing number of luxury destinations in Maldives. Many island-resorts now purchase farming produce and fish from locals, to prepare organic and healthy food which visitors have grown to love. (Maldives Traveller)