Seaweed farming is untapping ocean’s fortunes

For a very long time, fishing has been the main economic activity for communities living in the coastal areas of Africa. However, changing climatic conditions, overfishing, use of outdated fishing equipment’s and unsustainable fishing practices have led to less catch and dwindling revenues in the sector. In order to boost revenues, seaweed farming is currently gaining traction and creating more employment opportunities for coastal communities in Africa. China, Japan and South Korea are examples of  key dominant players in this multi-billion industry.

Nancy Iraba (28), marine scientist, co-founder of Healthy Seaweed Cafe, Tanzania and 2022 GoGettaz winner under the Impact Category is on a mission to use her knowledge and skills in uncovering potential opportunities that are unlocked in untapped Africa’s prosperous oceans.

It is during one of her visits to the island of Zanzibar that she realized the massive potential of seaweed farming, which contributes approximately USD 8 million to the Tanzanian economy. Women are dominant in the sector and because of inadequate business skills which contributed to poor negotiation power, their fortunes have not changed much with most still living in abject poverty.

Seaweed farming is the practice of cultivating and harvesting seaweed from the ocean. Harvested seaweed is dried in the sun for at least three days during which it is turned at different intervals and foreign materials removed. 

Iraba was astonished by the amount of waste resulting from seaweed farming; having visited the USA in 2019 where she gained insights on the benefits of seaweed food, she identified her niche on value addition for seaweed whose production was majorly for export.  

Iraba started her agribusiness venture at home during the Covid-19 pandemic, she admits it has not been an easy journey because of little awareness on the benefits of seaweed farming despite being farmed 30 years ago. She adds:Seaweed has the ability to transform our health while changing the lives of women seaweed farmers in Zanzibar. As a result, we have partnered with women groups who supply us with raw seaweed for the industrial processing contributing to a stable local market.

Some of the nutrition benefits of seaweed include: availability of many antioxidants in the form of vitamins A, B, C, and E. Additionally, it is a great source of iodine which promotes better functioning of thyroid. Seaweed has also been proven to aid in weight loss, promote good gut health, protects cells from damage, aids in digestion, heals joint pain and muscles, protects the heart, and is a good energizer amongst others.

Iraba’s agribusiness venture is mainly focused on processed seaweed using low tech innovation; she converts it into a new product known as ’seamoss’.With this, she says she is solving twin problems of health by championing the consumption of organically farmed foods for healthy living through value addition while improving the living standards of women seaweed farmers in Zanzibar. Her value addition products comprises seaweed gels, seaweed powder, raw seaweed and seaweed lettuce which are edible.

Challenges

With rising impacts of climate change being felt today, oceans continue to experience a rise in sea levels, high temperatures and increased acidity because of absorption of carbon dioxide depleting oxygen. The seaweed industry has also been impacted especially when demand is high that what can be harvested from the ocean and in some instances surplus is produced hence farmers need to dry them to avoid losses especially during winter. Healthy Seaweed Cafe is open to partnerships with seaweed farmer groups as well as scientists who are developing technologies for deeper water seaweed farming that has proved more effective than the current bottom off farming. Iraba is also keen on creating awareness about ‘seamoss’ to promote its consumption for its proven nutritional benefits.

As a winner of the 2022 GoGettaz competition under the Impact category and first-time applicant to the annual competition, Iraba affirms her win as a confirmation of the potential of the seaweed industry alongside youth involvement in the sector. She intends to use her cash prize to expand Healthy Seaweed Cafe industrial operations and have her products available in the supermarkets.

“Believe in your venture and cooperate with the right team who have a positive mindset. Choose to solve a challenge that is ‘customer-centric’ and map out your bigger vision. Lastly, expect disappointments and failure but take them as stepping stones’ is Iraba’s advice to upcoming young agripreneurs.