Wherever you go on the coast of Zanzibar Island, you’ll often see local people (mainly women) tending crops of seaweed. It seems simple: in beach areas between the high and low water lines, small seaweed plants are attached to strings stretched between poles pushed into the sand. Then, once the plants have grown, the seaweed is harvested.
You may think that seaweed farming is a traditional island trade, but it was introduced only in the late 1980s, when commercial companies, in conjunction with Dar es Salaam University, promoted the activity as a means of employment and sustainable resource management.
The project was hugely successful. Seaweed contains a natural gelling agent used in products from toothpaste, perfume and shampoo to yoghurt, milkshakes and medicine. In 2013 an estimated 12,000 tonnes of seaweed was exported to countries such as China, Korea, Vietnam, Denmark, Spain, France and the USA, and was second only to tourism in terms of foreign-exchange earnings.
In recent years, Zanzibar’s seaweed farmers have reported a decline in the trade thanks to increasing ocean temperatures, which slows the seaweed’s growth, and a drop in prices in other parts of the world where seaweed is farmed.
You can’t do a trip to Zanzibar and not visit the seaweed centre to learn more about how they harvest seaweed and to understand why the Zanzibar seaweed in particular is so popular.
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