Ukulhas: From exemplary waste management to innovative farming

How the Women’s Development Committee is achieving this feat...

Location: Maldives. 24th Mar 2017


The island of Ukulhas, which lies a mere 40 miles south of the capital Male’, has become popular over the past five years as a model island for its waste management practices.

In 2011, Ukulhas became the first island in Maldives to systematically manage waste at a community level. On the heels of its success, several islands have started following what is now referred to as the “Ukulhas model” of managing waste.

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Today, the Northern Ari atoll island – whose population stands at around 900 – has become synonymous with waste management across the country. Anyone familiar with the island now tends to make that association.

Aminath Nashwa, a young woman from Ukulhas, envisions a different future where Ukulhas is known for more than just waste management.

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Nashwa, along with some thirty women from Ukulhas Women’s Development Committee are heading an exciting new project in hopes that the island can once again take the lead in sustainable development, this time through an innovative method of farming.The women’s development committee had won a medium grant from the Mangroves for the Future, a regional coastal conservation programme co-chaired by IUCN and UNDP, to undertake this initiative.In early 2016, the island community had set up two shade houses to grow cucumbers and sweet melons in a designated area.After extended trainings from an agriculture expert funded by the project, the group have now started to do the work on their own. They are now preparing to collect the second round of harvest.
“In the future, when people hear ‘Ukulhas’, they won’t think about waste management. They’ll think about this.” —— Aminath Nashwa, 31 years.

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Nashwa, as the administrator of the project takes on the duty of recording the data, carefully noting down the weight of the day’s harvest. Cucumbers and sweet melons grown in the centre are sold locally, as well as in the Male’ market.

A small portion from the income is taken to cover the costs and to spend for the committee while the rest is equally distributed among the women working in the fields.


The project is in its early stages and has a long way to go, but the preliminary results are refreshing, said an island council member.

“This best thing about this project is that it’s given all these women a livelihood activity. They’ve now learnt how to do this kind of farming by themselves.” - Mohamed Husnee, Member of Ukulhas Island Council

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…are homegrown lettuce – a rare sight to see in a Maldivian island.

Many women involved in the project now use the knowledge they gained from project trainings to grow their own mini-gardens.

A prime example is Jameela Ali, a 57-year-old woman who now owns a pumpkin plot, in addition to growing lettuce and guava.


The project has also linked up remarkably well with the pre-existing waste management project. Compost made at the Waste Management Centre is now used as soil conditioner at the farm. A normal package of compost costs only MVR 5.

Before composting was introduced by the waste management center, the community was using imported cow dung to grow their plants, a 43-year-old Waseema explained.

 “We used to put cow dung to grow our crops, but now it’s much better with the compost we have. It’s easier because we get it from the island and much cheaper. With cow dung came root diseases and undesired weeds too. We use it to grow our pot plants in our backyards too.” ——Waseema Hassan

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Like many Maldivian islands, Ukulhas used to be a fishing community in the past. Both men and women’s livelihood were centered around the fishing industry.

However, decline in tuna catch across the country has been especially hard for the women of Ukulhas.

With the booming success of guesthouse tourism in local islands, the fisherman of Ukulhas have subsequently left their jobs and sought employment in this exciting new prospect. Ukulhas is now a well-known tourist destination housing several guesthouses.

However, the women who had traditional roles of fish processing (making riihaakuru, fish drying etc.) have now lost their livelihoods and with it, their means of being economically independent and earning extra income.

The grant project was intended to counter this by providing an alternative income earning activity for women.

All the guesthouses import their fruits and vegetables from Male’ or other islands. What this means for the island is that a lot of potential foreign income is being lost.

However, the women of Ukulhas cannot resort to traditional methods of farming practiced in other islands. Land is a scarce resource in the island, especially with the booming guesthouse industry. Over the past years, the value of land has tripled.

The methods employed in the project addresses these issues. It combines fertigation and controlled irrigation with several other techniques such as shade houses and coco-peat bags.

This means that the crop could be cultivated in a small plot of land with minimal labor.



The project has also led to a raise in awareness of the local community on the environmental dangers and negative health impacts of conventional farming techniques employed in many of the local islands.

Industrial farmers as well as home gardeners apply a lot of fertilizers often in excess that runs off and pollutes the ground water lens, which is also used for many household purposes. Many pesticides are also used without the right precautions and much knowledge.

 “Through the training we did learn about the dangers of pesticides and the importance of controlling the use of chemicals to avoid our surrounding resources getting polluted. We also realized the dangers of intensive use of chemicals hence are now more aware and use them after studying them” —— Aminath Nashwa


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Planting the crops in coco-peat instead of soil also prevents fertilizer run-off and ground water contamination. This is especially laudable when considering how Ukulhas, like most islands, use ground water for washing and other household purposes.

This way, the project manages to negate several ill environmental practices employed in the conventional farming techniques practiced in the Maldives.

Unlike crops that are planted in large plots of land in some islands, these crops are protected from mild shocks by the shade houses that house them making them more resilient to effects of environment catastrophes like floods and tidal waves.

But, tidal waves and floods are not the only environmental threats faced by the Maldives.

 “During the North-East monsoon of 2016, many plants in the shade houses had started dying from the heat. The trainer advised to use nets above the shade houses to filter some of the heat” ——Husnee said.
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This wasn’t, however, just a seasonal heat wave. It was the result of El Nino, which swept the nation with extreme temperatures and bleached the country’s coral reefs in mid 2016.

 “The nets we used at first gave too much shade and the vines grew high but didn’t bear yield. So, we had to switch to these thinner nets and it’s only now that they’ve started growing right.” ——Aminath Nashwa

The women leaders are also now thinking one step ahead. They now want to turn the coconut husks that are readily available on the island in to coco-peat so they do not have to source them from outside and spend money on buying or burn fuel through importing them. They see this as a good way to utilize the piles of coconut husks gathered at the waste management centre. Nashwa and others are now looking into getting a machine from nearby Sri Lanka to separate the peat from the fibers. A true holistic mindset indeed.

This is just one of many examples that show how climate change is challenging development in islands like Ukulhas and constantly forcing them to adapt often at the cost of their livelihood.

Despite this, the enthusiasm and dedication of thirty women in Ukulhas has shown that the island could take the lead in an innovative model of farming, much like how the island had previously demonstrated waste could be managed at an island level.

This story was written by MFF Maldives National Coordinator Abdulla Adam and Hassan Moosa. Photos by Abdulla Adam and Makdhooma Nazim. Edited by Aishath Rizna.
The story can also be found on the UNDP Maldives website here

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Member of Women's Development Committee , Ukulhas, Maldives © Adam Abdulla

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