Entangled by the triple impact of climate change, low price and now the Covid-19 outbreak, Zanzibar’s seaweed farming is in crisis after global lockdown measures curtailed local production and exports to international markets.
Shipments of seaweed to the Asia and Europe markets which accounted for more than 17.8 percent of exports from Zanzibar in 2020 had dropped in June this year after international markets, roiled by the spread of Covid-19 causing hundreds of kilos of seaweed locked at home.
By the first quarter of 2021, Zanzibar’s seaweed industry was losing 452 tonnes or 150 tonnes a month, according to the agricultural statistics released by the office of the Chief Government Statistician (OCGS).
January and February recorded the highest quantity of seaweeds production worth Sh655.6 million and Sh621.4 respectively but the rate declined in March where the crop valued Sh573.2 million was produced.
Women makeup 90 percent of Zanzibar’s seaweed farmers, which contributes 7.6 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
As part of the Zanzibar Vision 2050 development plan, the government had supported the creation of small and medium-sized seaweed farming.
Many of those like the herb manufacturers had just begun to profit from the international clientele before coronavirus struck.
“We are at the point where we are considering to shift to other businesses because we cannot maintain the farms given the costs involved while the seaweed market is declining and hundreds of kilograms of the crop are left at homes for lack of buyers,” said a farmer at Jambiani village.
“It’s very sad when you see the product being kept at home due to lack of buyers,” she said.
The biggest current challenge facing seaweed farmers is low prices meaning that even if production will increase, yet farmers won’t benefit.
The only hope for farmers relies on the construction of a seaweed processing plant which is yet to be completed.
The local demand for seaweed products is minimal, meaning farmers and seaweed processors need to rethink how to add the product’s value chain for the international markets.
They appealed to the government to inject life into the sector by encouraging more companies to invest in seaweed processing plants.
If it does not work, the entire seaweed farming could collapse, the farmers warned.
There is a real risk of loss of foreign earnings for the country, loss of domestic revenues paid by processors and exporters, and ultimately loss of 26,000 direct jobs mostly for women.