Algaculture helps to diversify fishermen’s income

[Madagascar] Birisoa has been in the sea for two hours. The water reaches his waist level, but he does not seem to mind. A member of the “Vezo” tribe, an ethnic group of fishermen from southwestern Madagascar, Birisoa is very familiar with the ocean. This man from Beheloke, a small fishing village located more than 1,000 kilometers southwest of Antananarivo, has the sea in his blood, and spending time fishing at sea on board of small “Vezo” canoes or looking after his “red algae” farm in the sea does not bother him.

As we speak to him, he is mechanically rubbing a rope with his hands — a rope that floats in the ocean in order to stop the drifting green algae from sticking to his “red algae Eucheuma.” “The harvest will not be good this month,” he says regretfully. There was a death in his family and he had to abandon his “farm” for 10 days due to family obligations. This has allowed the green algae and the Ice-ice, a disease that hinders the growth of red algae, to invade his farm.

In this undated photo, a man is seen soaking sea water at the alga farm.
In this undated photo, a man is seen soaking sea water at the alga farm.

However, at times when he is able to spend 20 days a month at sea tending to his farm, Birisoa can produce up to 140 kilograms of dried red algae with his 60 rows every 45 days. This generates an additional 70,000 ariary (about US$21) for the family income. While its insufficient to cover the entire month’s expenses, it is enough to pay the 20,000 ariary (about US$6) monthly school fees for his four children who are now attending the village’s private school. With what is left, he can also buy rice, and sometimes provide for his household’s daily needs such as phone credit.

Our alga farmer, who goes out to fish even at night to feed his family, aims to double the number of rows in his algae farm and to generate most of his income from it. He would then only need to go fishing from time to time because “in recent years, fish have become scarce, and the fishermen have to go further offshore to catch the best products.”

According to Patrice Razafimamonjy, an algaculture supervising technician in Beheloke and in the neighboring village of Befasy, with 120 rows, “the maximum a farmer can maintain during a season, a household can produce up to 300 kilograms of algae, and, with the current price of the product, earn 150,000 ariary (about US$46) every 45 days.” This amount is equivalent to the minimum monthly salary in Madagascar, but that income has helped change the lives of many fishermen in this southern part of the Great Island where algaculture has been practiced for nearly 10 years now.

“In Sarodrano, the hub of algaculture in our region, villagers earn their living from red algae, and fishing has almost become a secondary activity,” says the technician. “But the village has changed, people really live better lives,” maintains Razafimamonjy, who before being recruited by WWF to be a supervising consultant for villagers, worked for a company collecting and exporting red algae from the South of Madagascar. The harvested red algae are then processed in Europe to extract the carrageenan, used as a gelling agent in the food industry or in the manufacture of toothpaste or lipstick.

In Beheloke where algaculture was introduced in 2013, the 33 algae farmers can still only produce 400 kilograms of dried algae every two weeks. “But that is because we have just started. I know that the villagers here can do the same, if not better than Sarodrano. Beheloke meets all the conditions to become another algae farming village,” he says.

In this undated photo, the alga farmers are harvesting algas.(Claude Rakotobe, L'Express de Madagascar/IJD)
In this undated photo, the alga farmers are harvesting algas.(Claude Rakotobe, L’Express de Madagascar/IJD)

Gaetan Tsiresy, a researcher at the Institute for Fisheries and Marine Sciences (IHSM) at the University of Toliara, confirms that in southwestern Madagascar, where Beheloke is located, the characteristics of the sea offer good conditions for growing red algae. “The temperature, between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius, is conducive to the development of this tropical species,” he says. But he also mentions other aspects to be taken into account, such as the depth of water or the movement of swells and waves. “As an alternative activity, the conditions under which the villagers have to work must be taken into consideration,” he says.

In Beheloke, “the space is large enough for the development of the farming, drifting algae are neither too many nor too invasive, and the water depth is correct: the algae are not in contact with the sand and are not bothered by the sunlight as well, and the sea is calm because the sea currents are not too strong,” says Gaetan Tovondrainy, marine project manager at the regional office of WWF Madagascar in Toliara. For him, “the conditions are ideal for enabling the wives of fishermen to contribute to the household income.”

One of the reasons why WWF Madagascar decided to support the algaculture project in Beheloke and Befasy is to help local households increase their income. It is also an opportunity for WWF to offer fishermen, who have become more and more numerous, alternative activities. “Since 2003, many livestock farmers have migrated to coastal villages to become fishermen,” says Tovondrainy. “Suddenly, the sea resources have significantly decreased, while the pressure on fish and coral reefs has become particularly strong,” he adds.

With algaculture, some families have seen their incomes improve, while the marine ecosystem has been recovering. “Fish and other species lay their eggs in algae which then provide shelter to their offspring,” proudly explains Tovondrainy. He further states that his organization indicates “a 2-percent increase in the self-recruitment rate of the coral reef, along with a maintenance in the rate of live coral reef coverage just two years after the implementation of the project.”


Photo: Farmers washing the harvested algae.

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