The seaweed farmers in Zanzibar
They spend up to eight hours in the sea waters daily. Their eyes suffer from the bright sunlight and strong glare from the water. They are the seaweed farmers of Zanzibar
Their future lies in the sea
For four hours Hamnipi Khamis ties algae on a rope. She is one of the 15,000 women farmers on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar who make a living out of tying red algae. This seeweed is rich in Agar and Carrageenan making it very popular with food and cosmetics industries. The plant is dried for shipping to Europe and the United States. For Khamis,the red algae is one way of getting out of poverty.
In the rhythm with the tides
Khamis follows the retreating sea. Her life is determined by the rhythm of the tides. Before the next high tide lashes out at her fields under the water again, Khamis has to make the harvest and set new shoots. She spends up to six hours a day in the salty waters. "I cannot swim. But still am not afraid of the sea. I love the sea. It feeds me," she says.
To the sea on foot
Khamis' working gear consists of sandals made out of car tires, a stick and a bunch of ropes. "We must watch out for the sea urchins, the bites are very painful. And there are also small sharp shells that cut out into your hands. We all know that. “And the salt water? ”O that can’t hurt us," said 60 -year-old Khamis, who comes from the village of Kidoti on the northwest shore of Zanzibar.
Farming in the Indian Ocean
As quickly as possible Khamis attaches algae after alage to short lengths of rope, so the water can be expelled. The rope ends are then tied to longer ropes that mark out the area within which the algae are being cultivated . The whole plantation is around 25 square meters in size. After six weeks, the women can reap their algae and their weight has increased tenfold.
Cottonii and Eucheuma denticulatum
There is a big demand for Cottonii red algae the world market. In Zanzibar another type of seaweed, Eucheuma, is also cultivated. The red algae contain Agar and Carrageenan which are used in medicines, toothpaste, sausages and body lotions.In EU countries, Carrageenan, is known as food additive E407, and it used as an emulsifying and gelling agent. Good for both gummy bears and cosmetic creams!
Seaweed by weight
A bag of seaweed weighs about 50 kilograms. On a good day Khamis can harvest up to half a ton that's 500 kilograms. The algae loses half its weight when it's drying. For a kilo of dry algae, a dealer will pay Khamis 160 Tanzania shillings (7 euro cents). Cottonii and Eucheuma are exported to France, Denmark, China and the United States. Zanzibar produces about 11,000 tons of seaweed per year.
By the time the powdered algae has found its way into the cosmetics industry its value has increased many times over. A cosmetics cream with red algae extract costs about 125 euros.
Soap of Zanzibar
Khamis also earns money from cosmetics made directly from the algae.Twenty women from Kidoti formed a cooperative “Tusife Mojo” meaning “Do not give up ". In 1995, she had the idea of making soap herself from the algae. Enriched with cinnamon, cloves and eucalyptus, a bar of soap sells for 1000 Tanzanian Shilling (45 euro cents). I always use soap made from the Tang seaweed,” says Khamis.
Cloves, cardamom, algae
The Tanzanian island of Zanzibar was once one of the world's largest producers of cloves. Revenue from ardamom, vanilla and cinnamon exports fed the island. Today, tourism is the main source of income, followed by the spice trade and the export of red algae. About 20,000 Zanzibaris, mostly women, live off cultivating plants.
It has changed her life
"My family finds it great that I collect seaweed. They live off my income," says Khamis, a mother of six. "Before we were farmers, we lived off the land." When they took up algae cultivation the women left their homes to earn a living for the first time. This has also changed their position in the family and society: Women, too, are bread winners.
Dynamite and overfishing
Before, men earned money from fishing. But because of overfishing, using dynamite, and the effects of climate change, they can no longer catch enough fish. At the harbor not far from Kidoti, a few fishermen still sell their catch. Most of it goes directly to the central market in the capital, Stone Town, which is about 30 kilometers away.
For a Better Life
Khamis will not become a wealthy woman cultivating seaweed. But she has been able to buy school uniforms for her six children.” My husband is a fishmonger. What we earn is not enough really to live on. Khamis said there are many things that she wishes for “Good health, energy to work even more - and lots of money so I can do what I want.”