Ali Ihusaan

Ali Ihusaan

CEO of Happy Market Maldives

Fisheries / Maldives

“The market needs a lot of government support”

With a well-established distribution network across the Maldives, Happy Market, the country’s leading private food distributor, explores the challenges and opportunities for local production in a nation of 188 inhabited islands.

What challenges do local producers face in the Maldives?
Many Maldivian products struggle to compete. The logistics are very challenging, as there is no place in the capital island for production facilities. Labor costs are very high and power generation needs to be developed from scratch at the production sites. Furthermore, the consumer market is too small for economies of scale. The only option would be to aim at exporting the products, but for that, the market needs a lot of government support.

How can the local production market be empowered?
The Maldives is extremely dependent on imports, particularly for food. We would benefit considerably from a wider internal production market. With the right promotion policies, the government can go a long way in developing this sector. As Happy Market, we have even considered producing certain products ourselves, such as eggs. If the government subsidizes or offers some tax reliefs, or even labor, this could be a feasible option for us.

One of the government’s initiatives is to promote the agriculture industry in order to boost the economy. I believe every industry has the potential to develop to a point where the capacity can meet the country’s internal demand. Currently, ensuring that international quality is maintained in manufacturing processes is a challenge. Nonetheless, the potential is there.

How does Happy Market interact with local producers?
We try to source locally as much as possible, as long as we can assure high quality standards. Most of the industries operating at a large scale, tuna for example, always had a high-quality output. In terms of fruits and vegetables, however, there is surely a market gap that we would be very happy to see fulfilled. Working with local producers brings a number of advantages for us and the country, as we cut down imports and reduce our supply-chain efforts. We can provide the distribution network for new food producers, which makes the growth of the local market all the more interesting for us. They could produce and we would buy their entire output and distribute it across the country. This is how we can empower local farmers or even companies and businesses wishing to invest in food production.

Maldivian authorities are promoting tap water consumption to reduce the use of plastic bottles. As one of the biggest private producers of bottled water in the Maldives, how will this campaign affect you?
The government’s initiative, especially in a country reliant on tourism, is logical. What we sell is the natural beauty of our islands. Plastic is a problem that needs to be addressed. As a business, we cannot be greedy, protecting ourselves over the country or the environment. Being stakeholders in the tourism industry as well, we applaud the government for their efforts.

On the other hand, we have invested heavily in plastic molding machines and relinquishing that side of business would have a major impact on us. I believe that more changes in regulation are needed to empower businesses into moving towards other options besides plastic. Numerous options are available, from glass bottles to cardboard packing, but the change is costly. The government could provide more incentives, so that it would not be unbearable for the companies involved. Businesses like ours want to immediately make the shift, as we are aware that we have been part of the problem. We want to be part of the solution for the future. Tap water is a very good initiative, but we have to build trust and confidence in it.