At the secluded open beach on the edge of sleepy Kibuyuni village in Kwale County, lies a seaweed model farm run by 50 farmers, mainly women.
Kibuyuni seaweed farm is magical in that it’s visible during low tide but disappears at high tide.
In this scorching hot, sunny day, we are warmly ushered to the farm vicinity by a well-coordinated group of twenty women clad in khangas and we can’t fail to notice heavy rubber-boots at their store’s entrance which we later all put on as we wade through the low tide ocean waters, on our way to the seaweed area.
The seaweed is a green and brown plant that is suspended on ropes and is spread over a distance at low tides Mama Fatuma, the chairperson of Kibuyuni Seaweed Farmers, takes charge of the entire group and explains that the new venture is making a fortune to the farmers.
She says “We used to rely on fishing but its numbers are dwindling, therefore, it became unreliable for our families’ livelihood. But when seaweed farming was introduced, our finances too improved.”
She adds that their storage facility funded by the County Government of Kwale through the Department of Enterprise Development enabled the group store and produce more quality Seaweed products.
“Before the storage facility, we stored limited seaweed fibre due to small space in our houses, this was also a threat to the quality of our seaweed since the dried fibre could get moist under our linking houses when it rained,” Mama Fatuma says.
The Kwale County Executive member (CeC) of Tourism and Enterprise Development (Formerly Trade and Co-operative Development), Ramadhan Bungale, notes that seaweed farming is a lucrative venture and deserves all the attention.
“Seaweed products are in high demand globally that is why as a Department, we are committed to offering the best support to the farmers, to enable them to realize the full economic potential of the project and raise the living standards of their families,” Bungale notes.
Although the group recently faced marketing challenges, the members reiterate their commitment and have never stopped harvesting and tending to the plants.
Mama Fatuma says “We understand that marketing can be challenging once a while but it will not make us stop this project.”
Two types of seaweed known as Kappaphycus alvarezi (cottonii) and Euchuma denticulatum (spinosum) are available on the farm.
Its extracts are used as food thickeners and in the global pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries in products like hair shampoos, lipstick and skin medicine.
Fresh seaweed also helps in losing weight and lower unhealthy cholesterol levels in the blood.Seaweed is planted on ropes in rows by breaking off a piece from a big seaweed head patch and putting a little piece through the openings of the rope, then placed in the ocean. The seeds are left to grow for three months; after which they should be ready to reap.
After the first crop, each field can be harvested on a monthly basis.
At Kibuyuni, drying is done over open racks for about three days, then packed and stored in their storage facility where Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI).-the initiator of the seaweed farming, installed processing facilities, enabling the group to process soaps, lotions, cakes and other products.
Kibuyuni farmers have produced and sold over 50 tonnes of dried seaweeds and currently have more in their storage facility. A kilo of dried seaweed powder retails at between Ksh. 30-Ksh.70 and can be bought from the group’s stores of Kibuyuni village.
To boost the group further, CEC Bungale concludes “ As a department, we are ready to link up the group with more serious suppliers across the globe so that our people become economically stable.”
Through the seaweed farming, the Kibuyuni Seaweed Farmers, have managed to invest in table banking, catered well for their children and build better houses, strides that they never thought they would ever accomplish.
Editor's Note: This piece is by the Kwale County Government