Sampling the fruits of success and innovation in the Maldives
Sometimes the fruits of success taste particularly sweet, as Global Environment Facility CEO Carlos Manuel Rodriguez discovered on a visit to the Maldivian island of Meedhoo, where he witnessed an effort led by local women to revive a dying culinary art.
With the help of funding from the GEF, the non-governmental organization Meedhoo Ekuveringe Cheynu (MEC) has been working to replant coconut palm groves and to teach the island’s young people how to prepare local palm sugar delicacy Addu Bondi the authentic way.
“This GEF Small Grants Programme project is not only investing in preserving the rich tradition of Bondi-making in the Maldives but, more importantly, in its future generations,” said Rodriguez, who later visited two waste-related projects elsewhere in the Addu Atoll, the southernmost atoll in the archipelago nation. “It is helping young girls and boys educate – and provide a source of income for – their communities.”
Addu Bondi is a confection traditionally made from the shavings of baby coconuts mixed with coconut palm sugar, or “toddy.” The mixture is then heated, moulded into cylinders, and wrapped in dried banana leaves. Bondi is one of the best-known “short eats” – or small plates – in the archipelago nation.
But with increasing numbers of Meedhoo’s young moving to the Maldivian capital Malé for school and work in recent years, the island now faces a shortage of trained toddy tappers, who nimbly scale coconut palms to pluck the blossoms used to produce the sweet juice.
This shortage, coupled with a fall in the population of healthy coconut palms available for toddy tapping, has pushed the price of coconut palm sugar beyond the reach of many Bondi makers, forcing them to substitute lower-cost refined sugar.
The result? Most of the Bondi sold in the Maldives now is a poor imitation of the original and the knowledge and skill needed to make the authentic version is vanishing.
MEC’s project was designed to counter this trend, by restoring two hectares of coconut palm groves and raising awareness of this important tradition among young residents, especially women and girls.
The initiative will deliver both economic and environmental benefits. By restoring lost coconut groves, it will help preserve the island’s biodiversity while at the same time promoting economic resilience by offering women and girls a chance to earn money from the sale of authentic Addu Bondi and other coconut-based handicrafts popular with tourists.
Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the project has progressed smoothly and is now in its final stages.
This is the third GEF SGP-backed project for MEC, a 196-member organization founded in 2010 and run by women. The previous two promoted the integration of fruit trees into farming systems. The latest plays into that expertise since – despite their nutty name – coconuts belong to a category of fruit called drupes, which protect their seeds with a hard outer shell.
“Empowering young girls is at the heart and soul of this GEF SGP project,” said H.E. Aminath Shauna, Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Technology for the Maldives. “It is helping the community to reconnect with its culture and helping to revive the population of coconut palm growers in Meedhoo.”
After the visit to the coconut palm revival initiative, the CEO went on to tour two waste projects elsewhere in Addu Atoll.
Solid waste is a growing problem across the world – one that cannot be solved without real commitment and innovative thinking. Rodriguez had a chance to see both of these in action when he visited an interim hazardous waste management facility and went on to tour one of a growing network of waste-to-energy plants in the Maldives.
The Addu Interim Hazardous Waste and Chemicals management facility, was established as part of the UNDP-led GEF-6 project “Eliminating persistent organic pollutants (POPs) through sound management of chemicals." The plant was established in 2022 to further the objective of cutting the risks of POPs on human health and the environment.
The CEO then went on to visit a $28 million waste-to-energy plant under construction in S. Hithadhoo, a district of Addu City, that is part of the Maldives’s strategic action plan to improve waste management.
The Maldives, known for its pristine waters and beaches, has been working to curb one of the highest per capita rates of solid waste generation in South Asia – rates that are significantly higher on the archipelago’s popular resort islands.
Since its proximity to sea level, landfills are not an option for a country comprised of coral islands and atolls, most of the roughly 860 metric tons of waste the Maldives produces each day has historically been burned in the open: producing toxic smoke and microplastics that can damage lungs, contaminate food, and imperil the coral reefs and marine environments on which islanders’ safety and livelihoods depend.
Faced with a crisis that risks hurting tourism — the source of 90 percent of the country’s tax revenues – the government has implemented a number of measures to address the crisis.
The facility, co-financed by the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, will be able to burn 50 tons of municipal solid waste a day once it is completed in July. The heat generated will produce as much as 1.5 MW of electricity, one-third of which will be used to run the plant, with the rest fed into Addu City’s main grid.