For Kwale’s Shimoni farmers, seaweed holds the key to their improved standard of living.
The weed has variety of uses and can fetch good returns. It can be used as fish feeds and can be processed to generate homogenisers and thickeners in pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food industry. They can also be used as a soil conditioner and fertiliser.
Yet with all these uses, the growers under Kibuyuni Seaweed Farmers group, are not reaping where they sow. Why? Lack of market is their biggest undoing.
In an interview with Enterprise magazine at their farm, the co-ordinator of the project Mr Mohammed Nasoro says they have at least 75 tonnes of dried seaweed in their storage facility and they have no idea when they will sell it.
The sales, he notes, have considerably dwindled since 2015.
He reminisces how their fortunes were good in 2014 when they sold 44 tonnes of seaweed and raked in a mouth-watering Sh1.3 million.
“We have marketing challenges and since 2014 we have not sold anything from the stock we have at the storage facility,” he says adding that the farmers need to be assisted to realise the huge potential of the crop.
The farmers say growing of seaweed is part of their efforts to diversify their livelihoods, especially now that fish stocks, their other source of livelihood, have gone down.
Their water gardens under seaweed stretch more than 10km from Shimoni Beach Maintenance Unit (BMU) to Majoreni BMU,110.
Mr Nasoro says the lack of market for raw seaweed has pushed the group to adopt value addition to diversify their revenue streams.
They can now produce shampoos, soap and juice among other products. Mr Nasoro says they need govern support to not only boost value addition through application of modern technology, but also to commercialise their products.
Although getting a market for their products has been a tall order, it is not all doom and gloom for the seaweed farmers having received support from various stakeholders in a bid to address their plight.
“We have received support from various stakeholders including KMFRI (Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute) on research and technical support and training on seaweed production,” he says.
“KCDP (The Kenya Coastal and Development Project) has trained us on upscaling of seaweed farming, construction of drying racks, purchase of boat for seaweed value addition techniques. Kwale County Government has helped us with construction of seaweed store.”
Moreover, he says, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has assisted them to set up drying shades.
The national government is also chipping in by assisting the farmers with production of soap through the Blue Economy Initiative.
“We sell the products to locals and visitors. A soap goes for Sh100, while shampoo goes for Sh50. The soap has medicinal value and treats various skin conditions,” he said.
The County Tourism and Enterprise Development executive Ramadhan Bungale, says that seaweed farming could be a lucrative venture if accorded sufficient attention.
“Seaweed products are in high demand globally that is why as a department, we are committed to offer the best support to the farmers to enable them realise full economic potential of the project and raise the living standards of their families,” he says, adding that they are already in talks with potential buyers.
Agriculture executive Joanne Nyamasyo says the county and national governments are jointly looking for market for the farmers.
“We are aware of the marketing challenges facing the farmers and with the help of the two levels of government we are determined to look for lasting solutions,” she says.