Reaching out to more than 50 islands
Bolstering agriculture includes improving nutrition
Landhoo, Maldives – This country of hundreds of islands scattered over the Indian Ocean presented FAO with an exceptional logistic challenge in tsunami relief. Bounded by reefs prohibiting access to big ships, the islands stretch from 100 kilometres south of the equator to 800 kilometres north.
FAO’s office in Malé, the capital, is delivering assistance to the 50 agricultural islands most affected by the tsunami, to alleviate problems such as soil salinization, which has killed many fruit trees. FAO also encourages islanders to diversify production to improve diets.
"You won’t see hunger and starvation here," says FAO Representative Winston Rudder. "There are always fish and coconuts. But there are the insidious effects of malnutrition."
Deliveries can take days to reach outlying islands as traditional dhoni boats navigate stormy seas.
On this northern island, chief Hassan Nasir is overjoyed as islanders unload sacks of fertilizer, compost and hoes from the dhoni into smaller boats and row them to shore through the surf. The materials will help restore production of bananas, chili, cucumbers and watermelon.
"This will encourage our farmers in their work. We appreciate this being delivered in the rough sea," he says. "We thought we might receive something but not so much." During the tsunami the islanders worked feverishly placing sandbags on the white beaches ringing the island to protect their homes.
Farmer Abu Bakher Qasim, 65, will use the tools and fertilizer to prepare a second field in addition to the plot on which he grows cassava, sweet potatoes, limes and custard apples.
"I hope to be able to grow more now than before the tsunami," he says. On his second field he will grow guava, sweet potato and watermelon.
Aid for fisheries
Maldivian fishers also have benefited from various types of FAO assistance, including training from Indian boatbuilder Derek Mennezes and an FAO naval architect, Oyvind Gulbrandsen.
The training enabled Maldivian boatbuilders to construct fibreglass fishing vessels on the island of Thulusdoo for the first time in the country, which previously depended on imported expertise from Sri Lanka.
FAO is giving fishing gear to fishers from more than 4 000 Maldivian families. FAO’s agriculture programme will benefit some 20 000 people.
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