IN the minds of many from outside Zanzibar, the Island and its many islets are considered a paradise. The Island’s beauty attracts tourists from far and wide, making it an established tourist destination by all standards.
Thus, many would be forgiven for believing that tourism and clove farming are the only commercial activities pursued by the islanders. Commercial seaweed farming, or ‘Mwani’ in the Swahili language, has been one of Zanzibar’s key exports since the early 1990s.
The farming of this crop in Zanzibar began in 1989 and has attracted more people since then despite a few challenges. Women account for 80 per cent of the seaweed farmers in Zanzibar, and they have been calling on the government and development partners including private institutions to help overcome some of the challenges that they have been facing.
In June last year, communication firm Zantel, responded to the farmers’ call, by donating 10m/- to the association of seaweed farmers in Zanzibar, known as JUWAMWAZA in Kiswahili acronym, to support purchase of farming equipment.
The farm inputs include polyethylene ropes and soft plastic straws (tietie) which were distributed to the seaweed farmers in all the 83 coastal villages where seaweed farming has been going on.
Mr Mohamed Baucha, Head of Zantel in Zanzibar, said the telecom company was happy to learn that the support had positive impact to the seaweed farmers, promising continued support for sustainable farming and increased production.
In an interview with him in Zanzibar recently, Mr Baucha remarked; “This year, Zantel is celebrating two years since Millicom’s take-over from Etisalat of United Arab Emirates (UAE), hence our donation last year was in hand with our corporate social responsibility program.
“The initiative requires us to support at least 80 per cent of women in areas where we operate and for us we decided to support women engaged in seaweed farming.”
The executive explained further that under Millicom, Zantel’s CSR projects include supporting entrepreneurs, vulnerable groups like people with disability, youth, informational communication technology (ICT) as well as empowering women.
Mr Baucha pointed further that the support for seaweed farmers was also in response to the government’s call on private sector to join hands in helping the 23,354 seaweed farmers in Zanzibar, to ensure that they sell the ready-made products as well increase the value of seaweed.
The Zantel boss in Zanzibar also added that his company is ready to support the seaweed farmers should they need to pursue further training to better their farming skills through the use of the Zantel internet by learning what other seaweed farmers in other parts of the world are doing.
Apart from teaching the farmers to use the internet, Zantel will avail the EzyPesa service as well as teach them how to use the products to transact any time and from anywhere, how to use EzyPesa to save their money, to transact from their bank accounts at their convenience.
“We want to simplify people’s lives and make it easier for them to use the time in producing more seaweed and increase their sales, instead of using the time to go to town to transact or stay in queues for a long time waiting to pay bills,” he explained.
Under their umbrella ‘Zanzibar Association of seaweed Farmers’, officially registered as ‘Jumuiya ya Wakulima wa Mwani Zanzibar (JUWAMWAZA), the farmers are grateful about Zantel’s support, describing it as “an important boost.”
According to the farmers’ association chairperson, Ms Pavu Mcha Khamis, “Zantel’s support remains memorable to the beneficiaries in all 48 seaweed farming villages in Unguja and the rest in Pemba Island”.
She said farmers need new equipment annually, mainly the ropes and tie-tie, and called upon the government and other well-wishers to continue supporting the seaweed farmers.
Pavu explained that most farmers’ commitment in seaweed farming is hampered by unskilled labour, shortage of equipment including ‘seaweed carrier boats’, and low price, as she continued her appeal for more assistance from Zantel, buyers, and the government.
According to Pavu, “Cottonii” and “Spinosum” types have been grown in Zanzibar and there are about seven companies which buy Seaweed from farmers in Zanzibar, mainly Spinosum which is then exported abroad.
She said it takes between 45 to 60 days for the seaweed to grow and harvest, and that only Spinosum is widely available because the production of Cottonii, sold at higher price has not been possible due to, ‘probably’ the negative impacts of climate change.
In a recent interview with the seaweed farmers in Zanzibar to find out how they benefited from the 10m/- donation from Zantel, we came across a widow, Ms. Sharifa Thabit (51) who was braving a scotching sun working in her seaweed farm by the time we got to Pongwe coastal village, about 43 kilometres South Unguja.
The work she has been doing since seaweed farming was officially introduced in Zanzibar almost three decades ago. She testified to us that the ropes ‘(kamba)’ and soft plastic straws (tie-tie) given to them by Zantel around June last year were very helpful.
“We thank Zantel for their support and request them to continue helping us. Our other plea is for us to receive training in modern farming of seaweed” She said. In the nearby village of Uroa a similar activity goes on with farmers like Ms Fatma Abbasi harvesting the crop and dragging it from the sea to dry it at home.
“It is our daily tiresome job, but we have to do it to earn a living,” she says. When she was asked on how she benefited from the 10M donation from Zantel, she said “I’m very thankful to have been part of last year’s donation.
It was a very huge boost to us farmers.” She said after the donation, a lot of farmers were able to increase their income as a result of the increased production and that for her part, she made between 300,000/- and 400,000/ during the first harvest.
The farmers in Pongwe and Uroa consist of the large population that is engaged in seaweed farming in Unguja and Pemba Islands, yet challenges (mainly shortage of equipment, and low selling price) facing them remain quite high.
Zanzibar exports about 12,000 tons of seaweed annually, the third largest exporter of Seaweed in the World behind the leading Philippines and second Indonesia. However, the production in Zanzibar has not been stable in recent years due to competition from Philippines.
According to the farmers, they can process more than 50 products from seaweed including juice, cookies, cosmetics, medicines, etc. while in many maritime countries it is also used for industrial applications and as a fertilizer.
The major utilization of these plants as food is in Asia, particularly Japan, Korea and China, where seaweed cultivation has become a major industry.