Maldivians are Planting a Community Spirit by Going Farm to Fork

Maldives farm to fork

On a remote coral island in the Maldives, Hannah Stephenson discovers a rural community which has turned its sandy landscape into a farming haven.

Maldivian farmer Ali cuts open a heavy, juicy watermelon from his plot of land, proudly presenting us each with a slice, juice dripping, still warm from the sun.

Standing on his small farm in Meedhoo, an island within the Addu Atoll, the southernmost group of islands in the Maldives – next stop Antarctica – you could be a million miles away from the luxurious five-star resorts complete with picture postcard white beaches, aquatic lagoons, over-water villas and swaying coconut palms synonymous with these islands.

Walking past a corrugated shack, which doubles as his shed, Ali proudly shows us his farm, which looks a bit like a huge allotment.

Watermelons and honeydews are ripening on the ground in the sun, many of which serve the discerning clients at the nearby deluxe Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa on neighbouring Villingili Island.

Maldives farm to fork

Ali is one of 50 farmers on Meedhoo who have helped form a cooperative to clean up their land and make it more productive, in partnership with the Shangri-La group, and tourists are now being offered the chance to see how this partnership is working in a new farm-to-plate experience.

Since the tourist boom of the 1970s, hotel-islands (there’s only one resort hotel or complex per island in the Maldives) were originally developed with the aim of keeping Western visitors separated from the Muslim localities.

But trends are changing and, despite the continuing political unrest of this nation, tourists are growing more curious about local communities and their cultures, seeking more authentic travel experiences.

The location of Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort is not only ideal for the luxurious fly-and-flop break, where tourists can boast that they’ve crossed the Equator, spotted turtles, seen manta rays and prolific pods of spinner dolphins or enjoyed a round of golf, but being close to the other islands which form the Addu Atoll also allows easy access to an insight into local life.


Maldives farm to fork

Once you’ve had a few days to wind down and admire the glorious vista of the turquoise Indian Ocean, the sublime white beaches and the sumptuous accommodation, you may want to sample a true taste of Maldivian life.

A 10-minute speed boat trip takes us to Meedhoo Island, which spans 2km x 2.5km, where we are presented with garlands of frangipani and bougainvillea by beautiful Maldivian children dressed in traditional Dhiveli libaas, dresses with ornate necklines made from traditional weaving, watched proudly by their hijab-clad mothers.

Meedhoo is clearly new to tourism. Only a few years ago, the small beach on which we are standing was a rubbish dump awash with plastic bottles, rusty cans and other debris, a makeshift landfill from its 3,500-population.

Today, thanks to the work of concerned members of the community who formed an NGO to clean up their island and educate adults and children in all matters of eco-friendliness, there’s not a plastic bottle or bag in sight. Adults and children still take part in regular beach cleans three years on and a local waste management company removes the rubbish.

Here, female tourists are politely asked to wear attire which covers their shoulders and knees in respect of the Muslim faith.

Driving on the sandy road past 900-year-old Koagannu, the oldest cemetery in the Maldives, we come across an impressive school hidden behind bright blue walls, while a peppering of stylish gated houses in subtle shades of lemon clash with nearby tired, older buildings with corrugated roofs and fading pink painted walls. Traditional houses used to be made of corals but, of course, that doesn’t happen anymore.

Maldives farm to fork

By the look of things, tourism has clearly helped some prosper on Meedhoo but has been slower to transform life for others.

With a population of 3,500 to feed, farming has always been big here but now it’s bigger. On one farm, we walk past deep troughs of leafy Chinese cabbages, huge banana trees and beds of yam, whose voluminous leaves are known as elephant ears, and are asked to remove our shoes before entering a large greenhouse filled with rows of lofty cucumber plants bearing dangling ripening fruits.

It’s one of four greenhouses made possible through a $15,900 (approx £12,200) loan in 2013 from the Shangri-La group to the cooperative, which has helped increase farming production massively, so much so that Meedhoo and its neighbouring islands in the atoll now provide the resort with around 15% of its fruit and vegetables. The farmers paid back the cost of the greenhouses within 10 months, which was deducted from the resort’s weekly supply.

Hot Maldivian chillis, papaya, bananas and a variety of salad leaves are flourishing on the cultivated land. Fragrant frangipani, bougainvillea and other flowers grown on the island also serve the resort.

Maldives farm to fork

So how can they grow such rich produce on a bed of coral sand?

Rotten leaf matter on the island is broken down to make soil richer, although compost also has to be imported from Sri Lanka and India to beef up the terrain, while great tanks gather rainwater for the crops.

And while problems of whitefly, thrips (an insect) and mites sometimes threaten the harvest, the biggest challenge for farmers is the changing weather patterns resulting in a longer rainy season, says the community environmental officer Mohamed Kamir.

But efforts are being made to expand the types of crops which may be able to cope with changing weather conditions.

Earlier in the day, we visited the resort’s own chef’s garden to pick vegetables and herbs to use in our dishes at dinner.

There’s an abundance of mint, dill and basil, as well as gourds, aubergines, courgettes and spring onions, Chinese cabbage and rocket, all of which provide some of the resort’s needs.

If the chef’s garden cultivates a new variety successfully, it will teach the Meedhoo farmers how to grow and care for the plants, so that they can expand their own crops.

So, as we sit down to our delicious farm-to-plate dinner in stylish settings on Villingili later that evening, featuring locally-caught wahu carpaccio, meaty tuna with lemongrass veloute with some of the herbs and vegetables we picked earlier in the chef’s garden, and fruit cocktail with mango soup courtesy of the farmers of Meedhoo, nothing could really taste sweeter.

Maldives farm to fork

Luxury Lodges And A Conservation Success Story

Make Namibia The Hottest Safari Destination Right Now

Travel Nambia Photo

Best known for its dramatic landscapes, the southern African country is now attracting visitors with its wildlife, says Sarah Marshall Press Association.

An eruption of feathers rudely awakens the day, sending billowing clouds of rusty, sun-singed dust into the dawn sky. Wings beating frantically in a syncopated rhythm, large flocks of quelea birds shift and shape, creating a strobe effect which is both dazzling and disorientating to any potential predators.

When distances are vast and environments extreme, safety in numbers makes sense.

In Namibia, a sparsely populated, semi-arid expanse with landscapes of cinematic proportions, life seems that little bit larger than anywhere else. Lone oryx are dwarfed by sculpted dunes the colour of cayenne pepper, and the Atlantic-lashed coastline is smudged away by an overpowering, clogging fog.

Dramatic scenery has always been this southern African country’s USP, but now its rich and varied wildlife is getting some airtime too. Historically, most land was used for farming, putting pressure on wildlife by cutting off vital corridors; wide-roaming cheetah, for example, were hit particularly hard.

But following the declaration of Namibia’s independence in 1990, nearly three-quarters of the country is now managed by community conservancies and an increasing number of private landowners are shifting to tourism.

One of last year’s big profile openings was Omaanda Lodge, a first foray into safari by Belgian-born hotelier Arnaud Zannier. An hour’s drive from Nambia’s international entry point Windhoek, the fenced 9,000-hectare private Zannier Reserve neighbours Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary, run by conservationists Marlice and Rudie van Vuuren. The charity’s latest project, the Shiloh Wildlife Sanctuary, was set up by the couple’s friend Angelina Jolie to care for orphaned elephants and rhinos. When the Hollywood actress became aware that adjacent farmland was for sale, she urged the Zannier family to get involved.

A luxurious lodge of 10 hand-thatched, adobe-walled huts is now a vital part of the Naankuse story, with the reserve providing a stepping stone into the wild for rehabilitated animals. But the mountain-fringed savanna also has its permanent residents, who I meet on an afternoon game drive.

Travel Nambia Photo

Passing a mob of meerkats, who spring from their burrows like a jack-in-the-box, we go in search of “blankets” – the code name used for rhino. Emerging from a camouflage of silver-grey camphor bushes, two pregnant white rhino females make their way to a man-made watering hole.

“One more and we wouldn’t allow you to post that on Instagram,” informs my guide, Jonas, referring to the dangers of geotagging one of Africa’s most endangered animals. The cost of 24-hour security runs into thousands of dollars per month, he tells me, which explains why financial support from the private sector is of growing importance to Namibia’s anti-poaching efforts.

Another company with conservation at its heart, who are also investing heavily in Namibia, is Natural Selection. I visit two of their newest management acquisitions in Etosha Heights, a former hunting concession on the southwest border of Etosha National Park, a sprawling game reserve in the northwest, equal in size to Israel.

Built 10 years ago, Etosha Mountain Lodge is a collection of seven wood-panelled villas hugging a hilltop, with 180-degree views begging to be photographed at every hour of the day. More modern, the revamped 11-chalet Safarihoek features a convivial open-air bar and dining area, with equally splendid panoramas of the plains. Both operate game drives in the 60,000-hectare reserve, and with rates starting from around £200 per night, they offer one of the best value safaris in Africa.

The immediately surrounding acacia scrubland is streaked with brilliant-white calcium carbonate trails and glinting dolomite rocks; it soon leads to grasslands baked blonde by the sun, which beam brightly even on overcast days.

Not far from our early morning explosion of quelea birds, two bat-eared foxes appear from their den, bathed in a buttercup light. We watch them guard their young fervently, chasing off an opportunistic jackal who dares to come too close.

Travel Nambia Photo

Around us, shepherd’s trees sag with gargantuan sociable weaver nests, which tug at their twiggy crooks and laden the boughs like a leaden toupee; while at our feet, frenetic ground squirrels ricochet like pinballs, calling game over by disappearing into their holes.

No branch or burrow goes to waste; everyone has learned to make use of available resources.

Although fenced to prevent the potential transmission of diseases, there are pockets along the reserve’s 70km border with Etosha, where animals can easily break through. There’s even talk of creating direct access to the park sometime in the future, cutting down the current journey time of 90-minutes each way to the nearest official gate. Although Namibian red tape can be thicker than most.

Besides, there’s enough game in this private area to keep guests amused, minus the self-drive crowds leap-frogging between Etosha’s water holes and with the bonus of being able to drive off-road.

Travel Nambia Photo

Testing the strength of our 4×4’s tyres, we tussle with dense, thorny acacia bushes to catch glimpses of black rhinos, and we spend hours in the company of laid-back elephants as they shower themselves with dust.

Cats are also pussy-footing around the reserve, scoping out a potential new home. During my stay, a lone male lion makes a kill outside Safarihoek’s photographic hide, his conspicuous drag marks leading us to his lair beneath a bush.

Travel Nambia Photo

But his snarling behaviour in defence of his hard-earned prey is a reminder that the transition from a hunting lodge to safari camp cannot happen overnight.

That’s especially the case with antelopes, who were the main quarry for hunters. Stocked in large numbers for that very purpose, they still have a dominant presence, but, understandably, many are on high alert.

Sitting still in silence, we watch a herd of muscular eland saunter over the horizon, their hulking, boxy shoulders broader than a team of an NFL American football players. Numbering more than 50, it’s a formidable sight.

Once alerted to our presence, however, they vanish in a storm of dust, hooves thundering louder than a cavalry bidding retreat.

“Trust takes time,” my guide, Matthias, assures me. And in a world fraught with dangers, you need be careful about who you trust.

It’s a survival instinct that keeps Namibia’s wildlife wild.

How to get there

Cox & Kings ( offer a private self-drive 13 days/10 nights Highlights of Namibia tour from £5,365pp (two sharing), staying at Omaanda Lodge, Etosha Heights Safarihoek Lodge and Etosha Heights Lodge. Price includes international flights from London, car hire, the services of a private guide and some meals.

Travel Nambia Photo

A First Look At Commended Images From Wildlife Photographer Of The Year 2018

At McCarthy Holden we strive to deliver great photography and video content for property marketing, so this is a welcome opportunity to preview a selection of shots which have been released in the run-up to the popular exhibition. Sarah Marshall recommends where to go to see the action for real.

Covering every corner of our magnificent natural world, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition always generates interest, envy and debate. Some images are beautiful, others are chilling – but they always tell an important story.

While the winners won’t be announced until October 16, several commended shots featured in the exhibition have been released.

Many of them were taken in locations accessible to the public and feature on the holiday itineraries recommended below…

meer cats

The meerkat mob by Tertius A Gous

Where: Brandberg Mountain, Namibia

What: When an Anchieta’s cobra reared its head and moved towards two meerkat pups, the rest of the pack foraging nearby reacted almost instantly. Rushing back, the 20-strong group split into two: One group grabbed the pups and huddled a safe distance away, the other took on the snake. Fluffing up their coats, tails raised, the mob edged forwards, growling. When the snake lunged, they sprang back. This was repeated over and over for about 10 minutes.

How: Exodus ( offer a 15-day Discover Nambia camping escorted trip, including a visit to Brandberg Mountain, from £2,479pp, with various departures.


Cool cat by Isak Pretorius

Where: South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

What: This lioness drinking from a waterhole is one of the Mfuwe Lodge pride. Lions kill more than 95% of their prey at night and may spend 18 – 20 hours resting. Though lions can get most of the moisture they need from their prey and even from plants, they drink regularly when water is available.

How: Expert Africa ( offer a tailormade 9-night Civet Safari to Zambia, including a stay at Mfuwe Lodge, from £4,623pp. Flights extra.


Mister Whiskers by Valter Bernardeschi

Where: Svalbard, Norway

What: On a bright summer’s night, these walruses were feeding just off anisland in the Norwegian archipelago. The photographer put on his wetsuit and slipped into the icy water. Immediately, a few curious walruses – mainly youngsters – began swimming towards him. Walruses use their highly sensitive whiskers and snout to search out bivalve molluscs (such as clams) and other small invertebrates on the ocean floor.

How: Aurora Expeditions ( offer an 11-day Svalbard Odyssey cruise from £4,000pp, including the opportunity to go polar snorkelling (£411pp). Flights extra. Departures on July 15 and 25, 2019.

wild dogs

Ahead in the game by Nicholas Dyer

Where: Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe

What: A pair of African wild dog pups play a macabre game of tag with the head of a chacma baboon – the remains of their breakfast. The endangered African wild dog is best known for hunting antelopes, such as impalas and kudus. But over the past five years, this pack has been regularly killing and eating baboons – highly unusual, not least because baboons are capable of inflicting severe wounds.

How: Wildlife Worldwide ( offer a tailormade 10-day Zimbabwe Highlights tour, with a stay in Mana Pools, from £5,995pp including flights with various departures.

pygmy goby

Glass-house guard by Wayne Jones

Where: Mabini, Philippines

What: On the sandy seabed off the coast of Mabini, a yellow pygmy goby guards its home – a discarded glass bottle. It is one of a pair, each no more than 4cm long, that have chosen a bottle as a perfect temporary home. The female will lay several batches of eggs, while the male performs guard duty at the entrance.

How: Dive Worldwide ( offer a 10-day Philippine Secret Dive Safari from £2,095pp, including flights. Various departures from March to May.

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition runs at London’s Natural History Museum from Friday, October 19 until summer 2019. Tickets cost £15 for adults, £9 for children. Visit