Bangkok, 17 Oct 2011 -- Today, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presented FAO awards to five farmers for outstanding achievements in the areas of horticulture (Japan), aquaculture (Lao PDR), small island agriculture (Maldives), forestry (Papua New Guinea) and rice farming (Thailand) during the Asia-Pacific observance of World Food Day in Bangkok.
A model small island farmer from Maldives
Ms Gameera Adam
It would be hard to find a farmer more determined than Gameera Adam of Maldives. Although she came from a farming family on the island of Thoddoo, it’s not common for women from rural communities to engage in agricultural activities with clear links to the economy on uninhabited islands. Gameera’s family, however, encouraged her to be independent, and never told her she couldn’t be a farmer. So when she was 17, she and her husband Ali Waheed looked for land of their own to cultivate.
Maldives is a double chain of 26 atolls, or groups of islands, in the Indian Ocean. Many are small and deserted. Gameera found an uninhabited island. She approached the man who held the lease from the government, and who had not developed the land, and convinced him to let her family farm there.
From earlier trips to the capital of Malé, a four-and-a-half-hour journey by boat from Thoddoo, Gameera had seen all sorts of fruits and vegetables at the market. In Thoddoo, most farmers had tiny plots of land and could only grow watermelons. Gameera bought a variety of seeds from Malé to plant on her new farm. With Ali Waheed, she began working the land, growing chilies, cucumbers and variety of gourds.
Her neighbours on Thoddoo did not approve. They told her farming was not appropriate work for a woman; that her skin would turn dark. But Gameera was determined to farm. After harvesting her crops, Ali Waheed took them by boat to nearby resorts and sold them. Gameera took what was left to the market in Malé.
With their profits they expanded. Gameera scouted for other uninhabited islands. After a few years, she and her growing family and staff were farming on seven of them, subleasing all of them from leaseholders who had left them undeveloped.
Each time, they started with nothing: building basic infrastructure for shelter and clean water, and risking personal safety and security. And each time, the leaseholders for these islands eventually saw how well Gameera’s business was doing, and demanded at least half of her profits.
Gameera refused. She lost her farms, but not her determination. Instead, she went right to the top, approaching the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture and explaining her plight. He agreed to allow her to farm on an unleased uninhabited island, and is working to see that she gets a lease for the land.
The minister recognized a pioneer when he saw one: Gameera Adam is one of only a few women that farm uninhabited islands. But she may not be the last.
Another novelty about Ms Gameera is her success at bringing her farm produce to the market outside of her local community. These days she also uses her farm to demonstrate to the younger generation that farming can be a good business and provide for a good life. And that includes women.
For the future, Gameera would like her government to keep pressing the world community on climate change, as she sees soil erosion increasing on the islands. And, Gameera says: “I want them to do more to enable women to contribute to the development of Maldives through agriculture and other fields.” Gameera Adam is the perfect example of the strong contributions women can make to their countries and societies.