IT is almost three decades since seaweed farming was introduced on the Islands. Farmers have been complaining about multiple challenges, including lack of working tools, and low prices of their product.
Some farmers opted to abandon the seaweed farming because solutions to the challenges seemed to be far from reach, as authorities kept on asking them to keep waiting.
The biggest disappointment to farmers was in 2015 when buying price dropped from about 1,000/= to the current fluctuating 300/= or 500/= per kilogram. Analysts and exports said the price drop was triggered by demand decrease in the world market yet the shipping costs remained unchanged and also the quality of the seaweed changed to poor due to impact of the Climate Change. Despite the challenges Zanzibar remains the third World exporter of seaweed.
But recent move by the government in collaboration with private sector including researchers, hope for the seaweed farmers, as regards to quality production, processing, and selling at better price have increased.
The recent activities indicating bright future for the seaweed farmers include provision of working tools, by the government to the farmers, followed by the introduction of ‘Seaweed Day’ (on July 23), organizing ‘Seaweed Business Forum’, and plans underway for the establishment of seaweed processing factories in which multiple items from the crop would be manufactured.
Seaweed farmers are now being supported technically and skills under the ‘Zanzibar Seaweed Cluster Initiative (ZaSCI),’ and farmers such as Asha Omar from Jambiani Village in South Unguja says “Sometimes patience pays! After many years of problems in the seaweed farming industry, hope is expected.”
Ms Omar and her husband have been farming for the last 20 years, saying despite the heavy load of work, and low price, seaweed has been good because they managed to construct a small house and care for their family of seven children.
“We complain, but seaweed remains an important activity for many people, mainly women in coastal areas. Some people decided to shift to other activities, but should the plans to develop the farming succeed, those who abandoned will return,” said Ms Omar.
After one-day ‘Seaweed Business Forum’ last Wednesday, seaweed farmers celebrated their National Day last Sunday by displaying and selling their products in Malindi sports grounds, Stone town.
The exhibition included men and majority women clusters (groups) from different areas of Unguja Island, displaying different products from seaweed, as they as reminded the government to ensure processing factories are constructed, for quality production to boost price.
More than 23,000 people (85 percent women) are engaged in seaweed farming in about 50 villages in the coastal areas, but lack of skills and factories to produce quality products hampers their development. The Minister responsible for agriculture and Natural resources, Mr Hamad Rashid Mohamed, has promised support to the seaweed farmers, saying that preparations (mainly discussions with some investors) were underway to start seaweed processing.
“It is unfortunate that price of the seaweed dropped. The government is fully committed to ensure that the value of seaweed increases through quality productions of good made from it,” Mr Mohamed said at the seaweed Day event graced by Vice President Ambassador Seif Ali Iddi.
It was an opportunity for farmers Ms Amina Khamis and Ms Mariam Pandu also to ask the Vice President to reduce or abolish tax collected by the TRA and ZRB on their seaweed products.
Dr Flower Msuya, a researcher and ‘Zanzibar Seaweed Cluster Initiative’ chairman said that there has been noticeable achievements seaweed production, with farmers getting more knowledge about producing quality products from the seaweed.
Ms Msuya said the number of items from seaweed, locally produced, has increased from one in 2006 to 17 or 50 including being consumed as food, and used as an ingredient in food baking, medicine, and cosmetics.
“Although seaweed farming has been in Zanzibar or Tanzania for many years, not many people know about eating it as food. We are encouraging people to eat as food,” said Ms Msuya.
The last Sunday seaweed Day was sponsored by the Milele Zanzibar Foundation (MZL) as its director Ms Khadija Sharif promised a continued support for the development of the seaweed farming.
According to Dr Flower Msuya, her ZaSCI has been working closely with the Ministry of Trade, Industries and Market; Tanzania Industry Research Development Organization (TIRDO); Zanzibar Exporters Association (ZEA), and Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) to improve seaweed farming Tanzania.
In his speech at the seaweed trade fair, the Vice President said the government was happy with the achievements so far, and how women in engaged in the farming have been benefiting.
He said the government in collaboration with private has been working hard to find lasting solution for the challenges hampering seaweed development, including improving quality of the products for better market, access to loans, and reviewing tax on the products.”
Seaweed from Zanzibar is exported to China, Korea, Vietnam, Denmark, Spain, France and the US, and mainly used as an ingredient in toothpaste, lotions, cosmetics, medicine, and as food in China.