Sea PoWer: an innovative seaweed farming technology to empower women

Cecile Brugere
Publicado: 03 Mayo 2021
Última edición: 03 Mayo 2021
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In Zanzibar, seaweed farming is a small-scale but important livelihood activity, carried out at 80% by women. Recently, declines in production were observed, proved to be mostly due to climate change.


Tubular nets - an innovation piloted in the context of the Sea PoWer initiative, have shown promise over the traditional "off-bottom" peg and rope technology to improve seaweed productivity and local ecosystem conditions. However, tubular nets are used in deeper waters, and thus, require swimming or boat handling skills that most women do not have. Establishing seaweed farms in deeper water, using new technologies, could only be a successful adaptation option, with institutional support, significant investment and through the empowerment of women and the participation of local communities.


África Oriente y África del Sur
Escala de aplicación
Ecosistemas marinos y costeros
Mar abierto
Pradera marina
Actores locales
Adaptación al cambio climático
Ciencia y investigación
Incorporación de la perspectiva de género
Institucionalización de la biodiversidad
Medios de vida sostenibles
Pesca y acuicultura
Servicios ecosistémicos
Acidificación de los océanos
Falta de oportunidades de ingresos alternativos
Falta de capacidad técnica
Desempleo / pobreza
Objectivos de Desarrollo Sostenible
ODS 1 - Fin de la pobreza
ODS 2 - Hambre cero
ODS 5 - Igualidad de género
ODS 8 - Trabajo decente y crecimiento económico
ODS 9 - Industria, innovacióne e infraestructura
ODS 12 - Producción y consumo responsables
ODS 14 - Vida submarina
Metas de Aichi
Meta 4: Producción y consumo sostenibles
Meta 7: Agricultura, acuicultura y silvicultura
Metas del marco de Sendai
Meta 3: Reducir las pérdidas económicas directas por desastre en relación al PIB para 2030
Enfoques para el compromiso empresarial
Compromiso directo con una empresa


Zanzibar Central/South, Tanzania


Technological challenges:


The traditional method of farming seaweed in shallow water using the off-bottom "peg and rope" method is ineffective because of:

  • High water temperatures and salinity variations due to climate change, which lead to disease ("ice-ice") and prevent the growth of the high-value Cottonii seaweed species.
  • Seaweed loss, as it breaks off from the ropes in the currents.
  • The seaweed is of low quality (epiphytes).

Social and economic challenges:


  • Women face poor working conditions:
    • They sit in seawater for long periods untangling their ropes.
    • They carry heavy materials and harvests on the head.
    • They suffer from stings and cuts from urchins and sharp shells as they wade in the water.
  • Prices paid to the producers for the harvested seaweed are very low.
  • There is no transformation and value addition of seaweed on Zanzibar.
  • There are very few livelihood alternatives to seaweed farming for women .


Women seaweed producers.

¿ Cómo interactúan los building blocks en la solución?

The goal of Sea PoWer is to achieve, in partnership with the women seaweed producers, an adapted seaweed farming technology – the tubular nets – that transforms their lives, supports their aspirations, farming and livelihoods needs, helps the sustainable integration of seaweed farming in the local economic and ecological landscapes, and is ready for scaling out and widespread adoption in the entire Western Indian Ocean.


Sea PoWer initiative has adopted a progressive approach combining innovation with empowerment, to simultaneously improve seaweed productivity and women's work conditions, as well as act as a vector of emancipation by improving their position, decision-making and visibility in the Zanzibar society. 


At its core is the co-generation of knowledge and the capacity building of women seaweed farmers in terms of technical know-how, social capital, self-esteem and confidence through interactions with the project team, fellow producers, male members of their communities, seaweed buyers and other industry stakeholders.

Impactos positivos

Thanks to the innovative and gender-sensitive approach Sea PoWer has used to introduce the tubular net technology and develop the capacity of the women seaweed producers, Sea PoWer has become more than a technology project.

It has become a concept under which seaweed farming innovation cannot be separated from women’s empowerment.


The Sea PoWer pilots demonstrated that seaweed productivity from tubular nets in deeper water is higher than with the traditional off-bottom technique in shallow areas.

With this technology, women are getting fewer stings and cuts from paddling in the lagoon, as they are mostly on the boat.


At the end of the project, women showed their confidence in using the tubular nets and the innovative protocol of production, and in working together more closely than they ever were in the past. Women engaged with the SeaPoWer initiative reported that:

  • 91% have better knowledge on how to farm seaweed.
  • 91% have become a role model for other women.
  • 87% have built their social capital.
  • 83% feel stronger and more important as a woman.
  • 78% have earnt more income for themselves and their families.
  • 70% have increased their self-esteem.


Cecile Brugere

When seaweed farming started in Zanzibar, 30 years ago, it was hailed as a success story, giving women producers economic independence, a chance to engage in an activity away from their homes, and a way to assert their rights.


But this is no longer. With the progressive onset of climate change, rising sea temperatures and salinity variations have significantly reduced the amount of seaweed growing along the shores of Zanzibar, and are jeopardizing the livelihoods of the women seaweed producers. Using the traditional peg-and-rope technique, women work in appalling conditions. Yet their income is meagre and far from commensurate with their efforts: a kilo of dried Cottonii seaweed sells at only US$0.4, and one kg of dried Spinosum seaweed at only US$0.2.


Armed with these considerations, Dr Flower Msuya, myself and three other colleagues from Zanzibar, Tanzania mainland and Kenya, came up with the idea of introducing a new seaweed farming technology – deep water tubular nets – to improve seaweed productivity and women’s livelihoods and empowerment. This is how Sea PoWer started.


Tubular nets are long tubes made of fishing net material, in which seaweed bunches are placed at regular intervals. The nets holding the seaweed are then taken out to sea on a boat and placed in deeper waters (approx. 5-10m deep) by a snorkeler. The nets are held in place by ropes weighed by sandbags on the sea floor. At harvest, the nets and their contents are lifted up on a boat, brought ashore and opened to extract the grown seaweed. 


However, the use of tubular nets presents a number of key challenges for women producers. Local culture and traditions regarding assigned gender roles in society prevent women from performing some tasks such as going out to sea and engaging in economic activities without asking for permission from their husband. As tubular nets are for deeper water, they also require either swimming or boat handling skills that most women do not have.  Accounting for cultural factors as well challenging prevailing gender dynamics is therefore pivotal for the sensitive introduction of the innovation to women’s groups of seaweed farmers and for its sustained adoption before it is scaled out to the rest of the region.


Sea PoWer has helped the women seaweed producers become familiar with the tubular net technology, produce the higher valued seaweed, be knowledgeable and skilled in making and using tubular nets, and work in deep waters without fear. 

Contribuido por

Cecile Brugere

Contribuído por

Flower Msuya
Ritha Maly
Betty Nyonje
Narriman Jiddawi