Banner image: Astuti, 61 years old, 20 years in the seaweed industry
Images: Paddy Tarbuck
Interviewers: Dodon Yamin, Pak Asdar Marsuki
Translation: Anis Nur Aini
As seaweed continues to make headlines and the world finally turns its gaze to the ocean’s enormous potential, it is vital to spotlight its best custodians: coastal communities. Too often marginalised by industries, their adaptive capacity and resilience in the face of social and environmental crises must be strengthened. At MARI Oceans, we ensure our solution is founded on real needs to deliver real impact. How do we achieve this? By continually engaging with our farmers in Bone, South Sulawesi. In this interview, they share their stories.
A Day in The Life
What is your daily routine as a seaweed farmer?
JAMAL: In the morning, we usually go down to the sea and check the harvest. At noon we come home, then in the afternoon we wash and clean the ropes and tie the seedlings around them to be installed again.
What sector did you work in before moving to seaweed?
MAJID: I was a fisherman.
LINDA: Previously, I worked at a crab company. My sister also worked with me at the pond, and now we are both currently working with seaweed.
How many people in your family are involved in seaweed cultivation?
ALWI: At sea, I do my own cultivation, no one helps. If on land, my family help me to dry the seaweed.
JAMAL: In my family, I have a younger sister and nephew who are involved. The women generally tie the ropes, attach the seeds, then the men help in cleaning the ropes.
In Safe Hands
How long have you been helping with seaweed?
ROSNA: Approximately 10 years.
DIANA: I have been helping my husband with the tying and drying voluntarily for 10 years.
What do you usually do with seaweed? (What part do you help with)
ROSNA: I do brushing and drying. Many women also work in tying the seeds, but the harvest is exclusively for men.
DARMA: I tie the seeds and the seaweed onto the lines and dry it once it’s harvested.
How many women from your community participate in the seaweed industry?
ROSNA: Around 50%
In your opinion, how important is the role of women in the seaweed business?
LINDA: It’s very important, because we can also get results from tying seaweed every day, and this increases our household income.
JONI: We are very fortunate to have the women help out during harvesting and drying processes.
ALWI: On land, a seedling group consists of 25-30 women. The more seeds, the more the women can work.
Seaweed as a Livelihood
What are the advantages of the seaweed sector compared to others?
JAMAL: Previously, I was traveling abroad a lot. Seaweed is better because we can gather with family and there are lots of holidays.
Is tying the seaweed a suitable activity for you?
DIANA: It’s quite suitable, since tying is relatively easy, and it generates money.
What are the main obstacles for seaweed farmers right now?
LINDA: When it’s the rainy season, white spots will appear on the edge of the seaweed, announcing a disease. Then in the dry season there are a lot of creatures that chew at the crop.
DIANA: The weather is a prominent problem, as it causes disease and it takes longer to dry the seaweed when things are wet.
ALWI: When it comes to cultivating seaweed, there are definitely constraints. The first is ice-ice disease, and the second is the price. I have been a farmer for about twenty years and increasing the quality and price of the seaweed is still a major problem. Also when you dry seaweed, the land available is limited and the water content often remains quite high still, resulting In lower quality. Plus, the existing seeds tend to have pre-existing diseases, so seed support is important to get good and disease-free ones.
MAJID: The crops are affected by pests, diseases, and the overall price for seaweed isn’t stable.
DARMA: Access to financial services is quite difficult.
JAMAL: The main barrier is that we want to develop new land, but we have limited capital. Then, there is the issue of having more ropes than seeds; and we don’t have enough capital to buy the seeds needed to improve our harvests.
Is the income from seaweed enough to support the family?
DARMA: It is sufficient, but not enough overall.
What about government support regarding seaweed: is it sufficient, or does it need to improve?
ALWI: As long as I’ve been working in seaweed, I have yet to see assistance from the government, but hopefully the company will support this relationship.
What are your hopes for MARI Oceans as a company?
ALWI: Hopefully MARI can improve the welfare of the communities; either through quality, price or by creating employment opportunities.
Choice of Assistance
Between price, capital assistance, tools and technology, which one is the most needed now?
ROSNA: If possible, a more efficient and modern tool that would help in the development of the seaweed business.
MAJID: I would choose capital assistance
JAMAL: I hope we get capital assistance and knowledge on how to deal with disease and pests damaging the seaweed.
JONI: In my opinion, it is more useful if I get the help of tools.
To The Horizon
What are your hopes for seaweed farming in the next five years?
JAMAL: I hope that in the next 5 years I can produce good agar-agar, I can go on a pilgrimage, have good facilities and be successful.
MAJID: I hope to see my business growing and moving forward.
ALWI: My hope for those 5 years, hopefully the entrepreneurs can have more land, seaweed prices will increase, the farmers will also be more successful, God willing.
LINDA: We want it to be more advanced, to be assisted even more so that this program can run well, so that we as seaweed farmers can also get benefits and the results will be better in the future. But I also hope that the price will be stabilized, since now the nursery is also a bit expensive, the price of new seeds is expensive, the production costs have increased.