From Beach to Farm

7 mins read
Photos: Hussain Yamin UNDP Maldives

The UNDP Maldives Accelerator Lab is collaborating with local communities to create innovative solutions for the Future of Work. 

The seaweed fertilizer experiment in Baa Atoll Fulhadhoo is inspired by the community’s primeval connection to the ocean and biodiversity. The initiative combines indigenous knowledge and grassroot innovation to develop sustainable farming practices using seaweed-based fertilizers. Through co-experimentation, the initiative, which foregrounds the importance of indigenous knowledge and the need to share this knowledge widely, aspires to create citizen scientists who will learn to make seaweed-based fertilizers, test these fertilizers themselves and share the learnings with the broader community. 

The Setting: Baa Fulhadhoo

“This is an ‘ocean community’. You would see the people, including women, fishing in the lagoon and families out in the lagoon collecting shellfish during low-tide.”

– Hussain ‘Sendi’ Rasheed

Over the years, a lot has changed in Baa Atoll Fulhadhoo Island. Through it all, one thing remains constant – the inseparable link to the ocean and terrestrial biodiversity for the island’s livelihoods.

The Seaweed

With our first foot on the island, we hurried to the beach to catch sight of the seaweed washed ashore. Huge blooms of fresh and dried seaweed were piling up on the beach and almost blanketed the entire shoreline. The extent of the present bloom is unprecedented in the island. 

The story of seaweed is not new to Razzaqbey, an elder of the island. 

“Seaweed is a seasonal plant and once they reach a certain level of growth and maturity, they get uprooted from their natural habitat and are transported with the ocean currents and waves to the shore. They grow on the hard rock-bed of the reef, just a few metres away from the shoreline,” Razzaqbey shares his knowledge. 

Hussain ‘Sendi’ Rasheed, a local innovator, environmentalist and an inhabitant of Fulhadhoo, has been experimenting with making fertilizers from seaweed and testing them on his plants. His experience spoke volumes about seaweed and the current bloom. “I wore my first mask at the age of 8 and spent 38 years of my life in a diving career. I retired and moved to Fulhadhoo five years ago. I’m very passionate about the resources of the ocean. My dad taught me that the ocean is full of resources, not a place to be afraid of, and to keep exploring. It is his teaching that I’m pursuing now,” Sendi relays. 

The Experiment

The Island Council of Fulhadhoo had opened up the opportunity to participate in the experiment to the community. As the balmy afternoon heat died away and the sun descended towards the western beach, those who were interested walked to the beach with joy and curiosity.

In their first briefing session they learned how to prepare fertilizers using seaweed washed ashore and how to test this on plants. 

It was heart-warming to see some participants filling up their containers with fresh seaweed from the beach after the briefing session. Others made their way to the beach the next day to collect their share.

Sameela, an active farmer and a home gardener, is one of the energetic participants of this experiment.

“I love to grow plants. I want to familiarize myself with the know-how of home-gardening and farming. That’s why I participated in this experiment,” Sameela says. 

In the first class, Sameela and her peers learned how to prepare the first type of fertilizer, by chopping the seaweed and soaking it in water. In the ensuing classes, they learned how to prepare the rest of the three types of fertilizers. One was a mixture of beach morning glory, sugar and water, and the other, seaweed, beach morning glory and water.

In their third class the lesson was focused on preparing compost at home using natural resources such as black soil, fruit and vegetable peel, dried leaves, earthworms and goat dung. 

Sameela already makes compost at home and experiments with new ways to grow her home plants healthier.

She keeps ‘ola kuni’ (the natural odds and ends that she collects when she sweeps the sandy roads) to mix with soil and test if the mixture maintains a healthier level of dampness.

“I don’t throw even an ounce of compostable food waste, be it eggshells or any other item. I keep them in a container,” she says.  

“We have taken a much-needed step with this initiative. People have picked up seaweed by themselves, breaking the long-standing taboo surrounding it. This made me very happy,” Sendi says. 

Seaweed has long been perceived as an unpleasant and dreadful aquatic plant. 

Sendi hopes this experiment becomes successful and aids in adopting novel approaches in their work that are in sync with the natural ecosystems and enhanced with indigenous knowledge.

‘Plants, grow, bloom and yield in rich soil

With our huge efforts

Reaping invaluable gains to the people

The wisest is the one who learns the know-how of growing plants

Mastering the art to do it right.’

– Excerpt from the poem ‘Bimu Roadhi’ by Aminath Faiza

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