Land use: use: agricultural land: 23.3 percent, of which about 10 percent is arable land, 10 percent is with permanent crops and 3.3 percent is permanent pasture. Forest about 3 percent of the island. Other (sand, mangroves, water) covers 73.7 percent. There is no irrigated land. (2011 estimated). [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020 =]

Labor force: by occupation: agriculture: 7.7 percent; industry: 22.8 percent; services: 69.5 percent (2017 estimated). =

GDP - composition, by sector of origin: agriculture: 3 percent; industry: 16 percent; services: 81 percent (2015 estimated). =

Poor soil and a shortage of land on the Maldives limits agriculture. Some farmers that raise mangoes and bananas have earned more from those crops than they did to from fishing. The December 2004 tsunami inundated several agricultural islands. They required some time to recover. Much of the Maldives food, including staples, has to be imported. Fodder is insufficient for more than a few head of cattle, but there are many goats and chickens.

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”:Traditional agricultural production in the Maldives is limited by poor soil, a low level of arable land, and a geographically split landmass which disallows large-scale commercial farming. In 1995, only 3,000 hectares of arable land was under permanent crops. There are, however, a number of crops grown for domestic consumption. These include coconuts, bananas, breadfruit, other exotic fruits, betel, chiles, sweet potatoes, and onions. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]


Major crops: three kinds of millet, taro, breadfruit, mango, papaya, bananas and a few vegetables.

Major crops for domestic consumption: coconuts, corn, sweet potatoes, millet, corn, pumpkins, pineapples, sugarcane, almonds, and many kinds of tropical vegetables and fruits are grown, largely in homestead gardens.

Major crops for export: Coconut palms provide copra and coir, the most important exports after fish.

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”: Virtually all rice, a staple food for the population, must be imported. Breadfruit, mangoes, papayas, limes, bananas, pumpkins, watermelon, taro, and chili peppers are also valuable crops. As of 2004, small amounts of corn, millet, and sorghum were cultivated. Production in 2004 included 35,000 tons of coconuts and 30,000 tons of vegetables and melons. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Products from the coconut palm — coconuts, coir and copra — have traditionally been the main agricultural export from the Maldives. There are an abundance of coconut palms as well as breadfruit trees on the islands. Coir is the the fibre of dried coconut husk. It is cured in pits, beaten, spun and then twisted into cordage and ropes. Resistance to saltwater, it is stitched together and rigged in the dhows and dhonis that plied the Indian Ocean. Maldivian coir was exported to Sindh, China, Yemen, and the Persian Gulf. "It is stronger than hemp", wrote Ibn Battuta, "and is used to sew together the planks of Sindhi and Yemeni dhows, for this sea abounds in reefs, and if the planks were fastened with iron nails, they would break into pieces when the vessel hit a rock. The coir gives the boat greater elasticity, so that it doesn't break up."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Republic of Maldives Department of Information, the government site (, Ministry of Tourism Maldives (, Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC,, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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