Four islands in a southern atoll have been leased to UK-based Hummingboy Farms (HBF) for what the agriculture ministry says will be “the largest agricultural project in Maldivian history.”
A contract was signed with HBF on Monday to lease Dhoonirehaa, Golhaallaa, Hulhuvaarulaa and Menthandhoo – a cluster of uninhabited islands in Gaaf Dhaal atoll – for 21 years.
The company said in a statement that it intends to invest in excess of US$10 million for the project, which represents “the largest single investment in agriculture in the Maldives to date.”
“The purpose of the project is to develop controlled environment protected cropping. Temperature controlled greenhouses will be used to grow European variety salad crops and various berries,” HBF said.
The goal of the project is “import substitution and additional food security for the Maldives,” it added.
According to the environment ministry, the Maldives imports most food items except fresh tuna and coconut. Some fruits and vegetables such as bananas, papayas, watermelons, mangoes, and eggplant are locally grown.
Due to the high import dependency, food security in the Maldives is vulnerable to climate change related impacts on agriculture of other countries. More than MVR4 billion (US$260 million) is spent each year to import foodstuff for the local population as well as the country’s high-end tourist resorts.
HBF meanwhile explained that a seawater air-conditioning system will be used to cool the growing environment. Photovoltaic solar panels will provide power for the greenhouses with a diesel engine as a backup.
“Local farmers will benefit from selling their produce direct to the market under the HBF brand via a regular, low-cost distribution network, enabling a potential ‘picking-to-plate’ of 36 hours or less,” the company said.
The project has been in the pipeline for four years and was developed in collaboration with Canada, UAE, Hawaii, Turkey, Australia, UK, and Germany.
HBF said the project also received “input from Maldivians from all sides of the political spectrum.” The agriculture ministry under the current administration meanwhile “enabled the whole process to advance smoothly and efficiently and has handled any queries with total clarity and professionalism.”
The company said it “looks forward to offering produce that is of the freshest, highest quality, and best tasting, with the comfort that it is all locally grown.”