If you have visited our small gift shop at the Marine Education Centre to purchase or just admire the wide range of sustainable products that we sell, then you will have come across one of our highly rated products, the seaweed soap. If you have not tried the seaweed soap, then I strongly recommend that you visit us or order some from us pronto! We have received nothing but good reviews from everyone who has tried the soap. Yes! They are that good! The seaweed soap is handcrafted with love by women from a small village on the South Coast of Kenya near Shimoni, known as Kibuyuni. The seaweed farmers, famously known as Kibuyuni seaweed farmers, farm seaweed on an open beach on the edge of Kibuyuni village in Kwale County. They have been in operation for almost 9 years now, and with support from the Kenya Coastal Development Project (KCDP) under Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), they have been able to increase their seaweed produce, via additional training and by obtaining a lucrative international market.
KMFRI helped set up Kibuyuni, a seaside village of 2,500 people, as the first seaweed model farm in Kenya. Over the years, other farms have been developed in Mkwiro, Wasini and Funzi Island each with a 1,000 residents, Gazi village is home to 15,000 residents, and the latest in Mwazaro beach, which I came across during my three-month stay in Shimoni. A lot of untapped potential still exists for seaweed farming in Kenya. According to the World Bank analysis, seaweed farming is particularly important for women, rural populations, and indigenous people. Expansion of seaweed farms has the potential to boost local incomes, food security, and environmental health! Processed seaweed products enter the global market where they are used as thickening agents in industrial food products and cosmetics. Interest is also emerging for use of seaweed in sustainable animal feed, biofuels, and pharmaceuticals.
While visiting the Kibuyuni seaweed farming site, you have to be pretty lucky to see the farm, as it is tide dependent. The farm operations are also dependent on the tides, in that the seaweed is visible during low tide, but disappears at high tide. Two strains of seaweed known as Kappaphycus alvarezi (cottonii) and Euchuma denticulatum (spinosum) grow on the South Coast. At the farm site, you can obtain fresh seaweed straight from the farm, dried, or in powder form. The farmed seaweed is processed to produce soaps, lotions, and shampoo. The seaweed soap is so far our best selling product. It is known for leaving your skin feeling smooth and fresh! We are yet to try out some of their other products, such as the seaweed shampoo and seaweed lotion. All of the Kibuyuni seaweed products are currently in the process of undergoing certification by the Kenya Bureau of Standards for approval as well as branding. The seaweed powder can even be used to make seaweed cookies, cakes, or smoothies! Most types of seaweed are high in essential amino acids and packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are all good for your health. Like most land vegetables, seaweed contains vitamins A (beta carotene) and C. It is also rich in potassium, iron, calcium, iodine, and magnesium, which are minerals concentrated in seawater. Seaweed is also one of the few vegetable sources of vitamin B-12, contains omega-3s and polyphenols, and is a good source of protein and fibre. All the more reason why I call it the healthy weed!
Of utmost importance, seaweed farming is a good prospect for social and economic development in coastal communities. In Kibuyuni, this multipurpose weed is transforming the lives of the community. Through seaweed farming, the Kibuyuni Seaweed Farmers, who are mostly women, have managed to increase their income, invest in table banking, and improve the lives of their children, as well as build better houses. Overall seaweed farming in Kibuyuni has diversified livelihood opportunities for the poor fishing community whose main source of income was initially only fishing. Considering that the future of the fisheries sector is becoming more uncertain due to over exploitation of fish stocks, while jobs and incomes of 30 million people depend on fishing, and fish represents 17% of human consumption of proteins, it is safe to say that with a little boost to support Kibuyuni Seaweed Farmers, they will have an alternative source of income and source of protein for the future.
Fatma Manyenze is a Marine and Education project coordinator at Conservation Education Society. Her main aim is to enhance community understanding in conservation of the marine environment.