Zanzibar’s Threatened Aquaculture
By admin September 15, 2016

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A product that has seen a recent uptick in popularity is seaweed. It has long been used as a preservative, flavoring and also in medicines, however it is recently being touted as the ultimate healthy snack, rivaling conventional chips and crackers. Given its growing popularity, we look to the semi-autonomous nation of Zanzibar, just off the coast of Tanzania where seaweed-farming employs roughly 25,000 people, 90 percent of which are Zanzibari women, as stated by the government.

This island haven boasts hundreds of acres of seaweed farms, which are located just off Zanzibar’s coast in the Indian Ocean’s more shallow parts. Perfect spots are north of Pwani Mchangani, from Bwejuu to Jambiani, at Michamvi, but mostly at Uroa (Tour Zanzibar). The weed plant was brought to Zanzibar from the Philippines in 1988. During the low tide period, mid-morning until early afternoon women can be see more than a mile out from shore in the shallow waters picking seaweed from the seaweed catchers. These are a structure of ropes and sticks made underwater, which then catch the seaweed until it is plucked and taken to shore. Afterwards it is hung to dry until it is packaged and sold on the island or shipped to Europe for further processing to be added to cosmetics and as preservatives to food and drinks.

The industry is facing a crisis though, onset by global climate change. In 2014, a BBC correspondent visited Zanzibar and spoke with some of the women who claim that business is down and their jobs are threatened due to the effects of climate change. Mwanaisha Makame calls seaweed her, “gift from the ocean”, one who’s generosity is slowly decreasing. According to Zanzibar’s Institute of Marine Sciences, the rise of the ocean’s temperatures is causing the delicate balance for sea flora and fauna to become jeopardized. Thus the seaweed is dying off causing women to abandon seaweed farming in search for more stable work.

The solution would be to farm seaweed that grows further out where the water is deeper and cooler and not yet jeopardized as it is in water’s closer to the coast. However, women generally do not know how to swim in deeper waters and therefore cannot reach these parts. Yet, organizations such as Farm Africa through the Maendeleo Agricultural Enterprise Fund, conduct a number of programs in order to provide training and equipment to Zanzibaris. These programs are aimed to train in deep-water cultivation techniques so that higher-value seaweed can be cultivated. They also help to develop processing facilities that take in additional by-products of seaweed for added potential income (Farm Africa).

Historically, Zanzibar is the third largest exporter of seaweed behind the Philippines and Indonesia. Since 2012, exports have decreased almost 25 percent though. At its peak a few years ago, income from seaweed brought nearly 8 million US dollars to the Zanzibari economy, about half of which went directly to the farmers. Given that climate change has put Zanzibar’s aquaculture at risk, other sectors of the economy are then bound to face challenges as well. Various industries are interdependent upon one another through “forward” and “backward” linkages. These linkages establish how seaweed farming, for instance, utilizes the chemical processing and petroleum industries in order to process and then ship the seaweed product. If the cultivation of seaweed declines, then so too does its use of proliferated industries. When a percentage of the working class sees a decreased income, then subsequently their spending power is curtailed, and thus the industries that manufacture clothing and goods see a decrease as well.

Continuous attention on economies like Zanzibar’s is important given that the effects of climate change continue to grow. Future research will help to create solutions in order to curb the consequences of global climate change. Issues arising as a result of climate change have major consequences for food and water security as well as politics. The last time Zanzibar experienced crop blight was in 1964. As a result of the government failing to intervene, a popular revolt leading to a coup then occurred unseating the sitting monarchy.


Additional Links:

Seaweed Snacks are Healthy

Seaweed Snacks are Healthy


Zanzibari Seaweed


Seaweed Farming in Zanzibar


Inside Africa Special: Zanzibar


Travel Guide to Zanzibar


Seaweed Collection and Culture in Zanzibar

Thanks for sharing !

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