-Waist deep in sparkling blue water off the white beaches of the Indian Ocean spice island of Zanzibar, seaweed farmer Mtumwa Vuai Ameir gently ties seedlings to wood poles.
Seaweed farmed on the Tanzanian archipelago is one of Zanzibar’s key exports – used for food, cosmetics and medicines in Asia, Europe and North America – but now the vital industry is struggling with warmer waters killing the crops.
“We are desperate, and some farmers have been discouraged and abandoned the work,” said Ameir, who has been a seaweed farmer for over 20 years.
She works alongside her daughter and husband in the small village of Muungoni, some 42 kilometers (26 miles) southwest of Zanzibar town.
As crop yields decline, cheaper production and transport costs in Asia are also challenging Zanzibar’s position as the world’s third-biggest producer of spinosum seaweed.
Over 23,000 farmers grow and harvest the seaweed – around 80 percent of them women – according to government statistics.
But tens of thousands more depend indirectly on an industry that provides a key income for families with few other means to earn a living.
Medicine, Cosmetics, Food
Seaweed from Zanzibar is exported to China, Korea, Vietnam, Denmark, Spain, France and the U.S. It is used as an ingredient base for cosmetics, lotions and toothpaste, as well as in medicines. It is also eaten as a vegetable.
Farmers say that reduction in demand from abroad and subsequent falling prices has made turning a profit a challenge.
“Seaweed is now cheaper in Asia, compared to our price, therefore we must drop prices to maintain our buyers,” said Arif Mazrui, who runs Zanque Aqua Farms, a seaweed business, blaming price fluctuation in the world market.
“We have no control over the price, we have to adjust our prices to keep our buyers. It is unfortunate that while we adjust our prices to compete with Indonesia and the Philippines, the farmers are the great losers.”
Source: China Post