The Maldives is not well known for its fruits. For fish and for foreign visitors; yes. For coconuts and coral; absolutely. But with just 298 sq. km of land, and most of it on tiny islands with porous soil, conditions are far from optimal for diverse agriculture.
But, as anyone in learning about the Maldives will hear a lot, it’s different in Fuvahmulah. The large island’s unique geography has made it the most fertile in the archipelago. Even the name itself comes from the areca nuts which grow there (‘fuvah’), and the list of the island’s produce is almost endless.
(Aubergine, carrots, lemons…)
The general rule in such small islands is that the soil becomes richer the further from the ocean you get. Plants thrive away from the salt spray, decaying to form a rich water-retaining humus, which begets fantastic fruits in places like Fuvahmulah.
(chillies, watermelon, mango…)
The island’s two lakes are bordered with row upon row of yams – the southern starch said to fuel Fuvahmulah’s famous athletes – but there are also small family farming plots dotted across the island.
(beans, cabbage, cauliflower…)
Oranges and pomegranate were once said to grow in the fertile atoll, and a type of grape is can still be found for limited periods of the year. Pineapples are today something of a rarity, and tricky to grow (the secret seems to be fertilising with roots from the palm tree). To see them thriving in someone’s back garden is about as tropical as it gets, though stories of thieves regularly taking them to induce abortions is a painful irony. Extra security is also required when watermelon cultivation peaks just before ramadan, with scarecrows calling on rotating guard duties to protect the patch.
(capsicum, cucumber, lettuce…)
It is the fairest of Islands, verdant and fruitful. Among its marvels, I observed that a branch cut from one of its trees, and planted in the ground, or on a wall, will cover itself with leaves and become itself a tree.
– Ibn Battuta (1344)
It may be out of the islanders’ bountiful partnership with the soil that Fuvahmulah seems to be one of the cleanest islands in the Maldives. Perhaps for the same reason, control of the bat population also appears to have been particularly effective, with few flying thieves on the prowl.
(bananas, pumpkin, sweet potato…)
Allotments of land are farmed by islanders, though not normally on a commercial basis. Fuvahmulah’s famous isolation has made commercial markets unavailable to local farmers; a factor which likely explains the underdeveloped nature of Maldivian agriculture in general.
(okra, pomegranate, guava…)
The difficulty and danger of accessing the island, and the arduous trip to get fishing bait from Huvadhu, would have made local produce crucial in the centuries before modern harbour and airport facilities.
(coconut, onions, chicken!!)
But for lo(ooo)ng-sighted investors in Fuvahmulah’s fertility, there is a drawback to this harvest. Atoll formation theories suggest the centre of the island will gradually sink underneath millenia of matter to form just another lagoon, surrounded by a barren ring-reef of salt swept coconut groves.
But for now, we eat!!