Zanzibar’s Seaweed Revolution: Blue Economy in Action

In the shimmering waters of the Indian Ocean, off the coast of East Africa, lies Zanzibar, an archipelago known for its rich cultural heritage and stunning beaches. Today, it is making headlines for a different reason – as Africa’s leading seaweed producer. In the fiscal year 2021/22, Zanzibar recorded a remarkable increase in seaweed production, surpassing 12,594 tons. This feat places it in competition with global seaweed giants like China and Indonesia. President Dr. Hussein Mwinyi credits this success to the implementation of innovative blue economy policies, marking a significant stride in the region’s economic and environmental landscape.

Background and Current Scenario:
Seaweed farming in Zanzibar is not just an economic activity; it’s a lifeline for many. Historically, the industry has faced challenges, from fluctuating market prices to the adverse effects of climate change. However, the rise in production signifies a turn of tide, thanks in part to the strategic positioning of Zanzibar within the lucrative global seaweed market. The blue economy, a concept that integrates economic development with environmental sustainability, has been the guiding principle behind this transformation.

Government Initiatives and Impact:
The Zanzibar Revolutionary Government (SMZ), under the Ministry of Blue Economy and Fisheries, has been instrumental in revolutionizing seaweed farming. By formulating and implementing new policies, the government has not only enhanced production but also improved the quality of life for the farmers. One of the key initiatives includes providing special boats for farmers to access deeper waters, enabling them to cultivate high-quality seaweed seeds. This move is particularly significant in mitigating the impact of climate change on seaweed cultivation.

Furthermore, the government’s decision to increase the price of seaweed – from Sh 600 to Sh 1,000 for Spinosum and from Sh 1,700 to Sh 2,100 for Cottonii – has had a direct and positive impact on the farmers’ income. Approximately 5,000 farmers in Zanzibar and Pemba, many of whom are from marginalized communities, have directly benefited from these policy changes.

Economic and Social Implications:
The government’s proactive approach extends beyond mere production enhancement. The establishment of the Government Seaweed Company is a testament to Zanzibar’s commitment to adding value to its seaweed products. This move not only boosts the local economy but also empowers the farmers, offering them a stake in the larger value chain of seaweed production and marketing.

The increase in seaweed prices under the new policy regime has been a game-changer. It has provided much-needed financial relief to the farmers, many of whom rely on seaweed farming as their primary source of income. This economic upliftment is particularly significant for women, who constitute a majority of the seaweed farming community in Zanzibar.

Challenges and Solutions:
Despite these advancements, challenges persist. Climate change remains a significant threat, impacting the yield and quality of seaweed grown in shallow waters. To counter this, the government has encouraged farmers to cultivate seaweed in deeper waters, which are less affected by climate variations. This strategy not only safeguards the crop but also ensures a steady and sustainable production rate.

The Future of Seaweed Farming in Zanzibar:
Recognizing the global potential of seaweed in combating climate change challenges, the United Nations has highlighted its significance in sustainable agriculture. Zanzibar, aligning with this perspective, is focusing on making seaweed farming more productive and lucrative. The Ministry of Trade and Industry, in collaboration with other ministries, is working diligently to ensure a guaranteed market for the increased production, primarily through the establishment of seaweed processing industries.

As Zanzibar celebrates the 60th anniversary of its revolution, the future of seaweed farming shines bright. The initiatives set forth by President Mwinyi and the concerted efforts of various government ministries promise a thriving seaweed industry. Vice President Hemed Suleiman Abdullah’s recent remarks during a visit to the upcoming seaweed factory in North Pemba echo this sentiment, highlighting the government’s commitment to elevating seaweed farming as a key economic driver.

In the midst of this progress, voices like Said Ali M’barouk, Coordinator of the opposition party ACT-Wazalendo on Pemba Island, call for a more robust approach. M’barouk emphasizes the need for in-depth research on seaweed farming, ensuring that the industry’s growth is underpinned by scientific insight and sustainable practices.

Zanzibar’s journey in seaweed production is more than an economic success story; it’s a tale of environmental stewardship, community upliftment, and a visionary approach to the blue economy. As the world grapples with the challenges of climate change and sustainable development, Zanzibar stands as a beacon, demonstrating how innovation and policy can harmonize the needs of people, profit, and the planet.