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15. Maldives

Country data

Total land area (thousand ha)


Total forest area 1995 (thousand ha)/% of total land area


Natural forest 1995 (thousand ha)


Total change in forest cover 1990-95 (thousand ha)/annual change (%)


Population total 1997 (thousand)


Rural population 1995 (%)


GNP per person 1997 in US$


Source of data: FAO - State of the World’s Forest, 1999 and Asia-Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study

General information

The Republic of Maldives is a coral archipelago consisting of 1,190 islands. These islands are grouped into 26 coral atolls. The total landmass of the area is less than 10%. The islands are small and low-lying with an average elevation of 1.6 m above mean sea level.

The Government has established the Perspective Plan for Maldives - Vision 2005, which provides a vision and embodies the hopes and aspirations of the country for the future. Within the framework of the long-term national goals envisaged in the Perspective Plan, Three-year Plans have been formulated and implemented. The fifth three-year National Development Plan of 1997-99 is currently under implementation.

The vegetation is relatively uniform and follows a common pattern: salt-tolerant bushes and coconut palms. The soils are poor and highly porous. All islands are dominated by large stands of coconut. Although no distinct forest exists per se, the demand of timber for boats, house building, fuel wood, fencing, foods and medicines has been partly fulfilled by the bushes and coconut palms.

The population is scattered over 200 inhabited islands. The remaining islands are uninhabited, except for 87 islands that have been developed as tourist resorts. Maldives has achieved economic growth during the last decade. Since 1987, the average annual economic growth rate has exceeded 9.0% due to the global market for fish and tourism services. The agriculture sector grew at an average rate of 3.7% during 1994-96.

Shifting cultivation is still being practised in agriculture development. Land is cleared by farmers and planted with cash crops for a few years. Wood lots are also converted for cropping. Coconut trees are used in an agroforestry system, providing shelter and shade to crops and gardens.

In Maldives, all lands belong to the State. In the inhabited lands (not including backyard gardens) islanders are given communal cropland free of charge for the cultivation of annual crops.

Currently, the country is experiencing a severe shortage of forest products as a result of population pressure and unsound land use practices, as well as developments in the fishing industry and marine transport. The majority of timber demand was met from imports. About US$ 97 million of timber pro-ducts were imported in 1994.

Recently, a more secure system of leasing land has been adopted. This will encourage tree planting and develop sustainable land use systems through out the country. It was reported that uninhabited islands make up the major part of the land area of Maldives. The Government feels that it is necessary to upgrade the land tenure system of these islands.

Policy and planning

Maldives has not previously formulated a national forest programme, either under the TFAP or a Forestry Master Plan. However, in the current Government development plans, promoting and sustaining forestry development is one of the priorities.

Timber is recognised as a valuable natural resource in Maldives and its preservation and regeneration is an important element of the government policy. The Ministry of Fisheries, Agriculture and Marine Resources (MOFAMR), the institution responsible for forestry, has restricted the issuing of timber cutting permits to protect the existing vegetation. Only one or two varieties are allowed to be cut for firewood. Two new trees must be planted for each tree cut down for any purpose.

MOFAMR has successfully completed a programme to plant two million trees, mainly to support timber production and minimise the environmental impact of tree degradation, but also to improve the condition of the community lands. Trees for timber, shade and fruit trees have been planted almost all over the country. In addition, a project supported by international institutions was launched to stimulate domestic timber production through the establishment of four regional nurseries.

The forest’s role in providing wood energy for domestic purposes was appreciated for daily cooking and preparing by-products from fish, etc. Although the cost of labour and increasing fuel wood prices has begun to result in a shift to kerosene and gas, in the outer islands fuel wood is still used intensively.

From the utility point of view, tree species in Maldives have been grouped into the following:

· timber commonly used for boat construction;

· timber used for house building;

· timber used for handicrafts; and

· timber used for fuel wood.


There are no minerals available for economic exploitation. Land and fresh water are in scarce supply. There are no lakes, rivers, or streams. All islands are dependent upon fresh water lenses that can be easily depleted or contaminated unless handled with care. Most of the islands are not suitable for agriculture as the soils are porous, highly alkaline, deficient in potassium and nitrogen, and resist root penetration.

Island ecosystems are environmentally vulnerable. Encroachment and depletion can have long-lasting harmful effects that can threaten the achievement of sustainable economic and social development. Economic, socio-economic and environmental developments are seriously constrained by the continuing rapid population growth and pressure on forests, the lack of qualified manpower, the lack of space, and the poor soil conditions.

Focal point
Mohamed Zuhair
Director Agriculture Services
Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture
Ghazze Building
Ameer Ahmed Magu, Male, 20-05
Fax: 960-326558
Phone: 960-322625, 323928


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