[Tanzania ] Zanzibar is to build two seaweed processing plants at Unguja and Pemba before the end of this year in an effort to add value of the crop produced in the isles Zanzibar Island.
The two plants would mainly help to uplift the prices of seaweed to farmers from the current 500 to 800 per kg of the crop as there will be expansion of the market for the produce.
The firm, Afro Sea Foods, has invested USD 2.5m for the construction and purchase of industrial equipment for crop processing.
In an exclusive interview with ‘The Guardian’ on Tuesday in Dar es Salaam, Wawi Constituency Hamad Rashid said the investment would help to turn the isles into a major producer of seaweed in East Africa.
According to him, the firm is on the final process of registering the project under the Export Processing Zone Authority (EPZA) before starting work.
“Chinese based construction company will undertake the work to build the two plants in a period of three months soon after completion of the registration process,” he explained.
Rashid detailed that seaweed production not only is used for commercial purposes in that farmers earn a living from it, but it is also used for food. The setting up of such industries would expand the Isles’ food market, he said.
He added that seaweed crop produces powder and oil for cooking, as well as medicines for cancer. Besides, it helps to preserve the ocean’s ecosystem.
“We attach the importance of building these plants to the economic significance of the crop to the Isles’ economy,” Hamad Rashid, who is Wawi lawmaker, said.
He said, despite the fact that in Zanzibar, seaweed is recoded to be among the three leading crops, the farmers are still hamstrung by the unfriendly sale price of the crop, which currently stands at 500 per kg.
“All those are due to the absence of a market for selling the produced raw materials,” he said.
“Some farmers, even though, use local processing methods to prepare packed food, but due to the absence of a structured market, still they sell the products at cheap prices,” he said.
Rashid went on to explain that, with the coming of the processing plants, the farmers would have shares in the industries so as to enable them invest more of their capital and have full access in the market.
“The factories will provide reliefs to farmers who mostly use their hands and local tools in the whole process, in turn most women who are highly engaged in this activity are suffering from backbone illness,” he lamented, adding that, the machine will replace famers’ hands.
A study conducted recently shows that, 90 percent of women engaged in the production of the crop use much of their time in the activity yet they get little.
“Far from Zanzibar, producer of seaweed across EAC, other leading producers are Asia, followed by German and Europe. In Tanzania the crops is used as food because it contain a large percentage of protein,” Rashid noted.
He said, Kenya does not have very good prospects for seaweed industry. There is no significant biomass of seaweeds in the wild to sustain such an industry. None of the pilot studies carried out have given any promising results that would encourage investors to venture into seaweed farming.
Unlike to Kenya, he cited, in Morocco there is a well established industry based on the extraction of agar from wild. In cooperation with the Institute of National Resource of Morocco and an institute in France, a useful method has been developed to quantify seaweed resources.
Seaweed farming is a community activity that mainly wives of fishermen undertake in Zanzibar to provide some additional resources to the household.
It is a very painful and relatively unprofitable work. These workers may prematurely get rheumatic diseases or eye diseases due to sun reflection on water.
The farms grow Eucheuma spinosum, red seaweed. The cultivation began in Zanzibar in 1989 at the initiative of the University of Dar Es Salaam and with the assistance of Filipino experts. The growth of red seaweed proved to be faster in the tropical shallow and generally calm waters on the coast of Zanzibar than in the Philippines and in Singapore.
Each seaweed farm operates under the responsibility of a woman who is helped by a few relatives or friends. The entire job is made by women.
Like shell fishing, seaweed farming occurs indeed in the intertidal zone which is traditionally the preserve of women. A few men would also be embarked on this activity.
The farms operate actually as subcontractors of a few Zanzibari firms that are specialized in the collection and export of red seaweed.
First, farmers make stakes from wood they find in the bush. They plant these wooden stakes in the coral reef and connect them with ropes, the only material they must buy. They use mainly nylon ropes.
Along these ropes, they attach young shoots of seaweeds which they let grow in tropical waters for 6 to 8 weeks. This job can be done only at low tide when water withdraws over long distances such as 1 km or more.
Then, women harvest mature seaweed. From the harvest, they take seaweed cuttings and bind them on the beach. Then they go and fix them again to the wooden stakes in water for a later harvest.
When water rises, harvest must stop. Harvested seaweeds are brought to the end of the beaches that are very broad on the East Coast of Zanzibar. They are placed to dry in the sun, either hung and swept away by the breeze or simply spread on the ground on palm leaves. Seaweeds change color day after day when drying.
After a week, red seaweeds are brought to the wholesaler who will export them to East Asia, mainly China, in order to be transformed. In fact, carrageenan (E407) is extracted from Eucheuma. It is a raw material with gelling, thickening and stabilizing properties. It is used in the food industry (ice cream, other dairy desserts, light drinks, pet food, beer clarifier,…), cosmetics (toothpaste, shampoo, shoe polish,…) and pharmaceutical (excipient). Agar (E406), another food additive, is also derived from red seaweed.
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