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Zanzibar > Pictures and travelogues > Seaweed farming in Zanzibar

Pictures from seaweed farming in Zanzibar.

Seaweed farming in Zanzibar
Seaweed farming in Zanzibar (here Matemwe).

Red seaweed in Zanzibar
Binding seaweed cuttings together with ropes. Then they will be planted.

Seaweed farming is a community activity that mainly wives of fishermen undertake in Zanzibar to provide some additional resources to the household. It is a very painful and relatively unprofitable work. These workers may prematurely get rheumatic diseases or eye diseases due to sun reflection on water.

The farms grow Eucheuma spinosum, red seaweed.
The cultivation began in Zanzibar in 1989 at the initiative of the University of Dar Es Salaam and with the assistance of Filipino experts. The growth of red seaweed proved to be faster in the tropical shallow and generally calm waters on the coast of Zanzibar than in the Philippines and in Singapore.

Each seaweed farm operates under the responsibility of a woman who is helped by a few relatives or friends. The entire job is made by women. Like shell fishing, seaweed farming occurs indeed in the intertidal zone which is traditionally the preserve of women. A few men would also be embarked on this activity.

The farms operate actually as subcontractors of a few Zanzibari firms that are specialized in the collection and export of red seaweed.

First, farmers make stakes from wood they find in the bush. They plant these wooden stakes in the coral reef and connect them with ropes, the only material they must buy. They use  mainly nylon ropes. Along these ropes, they attach young shoots of seaweeds which they let grow in tropical waters for 6 to 8 weeks. This job can be done only at low tide when water withdraws over long distances such as 1 km or more.

Then, women harvest mature seaweed. From the harvest, they take seaweed cuttings and bind them on the beach. Then they go and fix them again to the wooden stakes in water for a later harvest.

When water rises, harvest must stop. Harvested seaweeds are brought to the end of the beaches that are very broad on the East Coast of Zanzibar. They are placed to dry in the sun, either hung and swept away by the breeze or simply spread on the ground on palm leaves. Seaweeds change color day after day when drying.

After a week, red seaweeds are brought to the wholesaler who will export them to East Asia, mainly China, in order to be transformed. In fact, carrageenan (E407) is extracted from Eucheuma. It is a raw material with gelling, thickening and stabilizing properties. It is used in the food industry (ice cream, other dairy desserts, light drinks, pet food, beer clarifier,...), cosmetics (toothpaste, shampoo, shoe polish,...) and pharmaceutical (excipient). Agar (E406), another food additive, is also derived from red seaweed.

Very few tourists who wander on the long beaches of Zanzibar do know they watch harvesting a raw material that is used in many products that they will find in their supermarket, or even their own fridge, once finished holiday. It is true that on the spot, the only cosmetic use of Eucheuma comes to be mentioned by local people.

Farmers would be paid €0.20 per kilo of harvested seaweed.
We were told that exporters take advantage of the dependency of the Zanzibar farmers on these revenues to keep low prices, even not to mention the effects of competition from other producing countries.

There is no seaweed-processing industry in Zanzibar. The whole harvest is exported. More than 12,000 tons of seaweed was exported in 2012 so that seaweed farming actually boosts the economy of Zanzibar. Since 1989, the volume of export of red seaweed has steadily increased since more households engage into cultivation and drying seaweed on the east Coast of Zanzibar. Pemba, the other main island of the archipelago, has also seaweed fields. Cloves remain however the major export crop of Zanzibar. 

Seaweeds that are sold in Zanzibar for consumption (restaurants,...) are not collected in the island, but are from Japan.

Seaweed fields in Zanzibar
At low tide, women tie seaweed cuttings that they will harvest later on.

To ensure continuous production, a seaweed farm needs dozens of pickets, about 70 on average. The actual number depends on each farm.

Collecting seaweeds in Zanzibar
At high tide, the women bring the harvest to the beach.

Sometimes, farmers must go and find seaweeds that have gone away from the field.

Drying seaweeds in Zanzibar
Drying seaweeds in the sun in Zanzibar. Then the seaweeds are sold to the wholesaler.

The picture shows the difference between the new harvest and that of the previous week.


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Travel guide and travel directory to Zanzibar with many pictures.