Empowering “Cottonii” Farmers to Develop New Products

algaeurope.org   Women of Algae

Soloman Island seaweed farmers are keen to use their local knowledge and resources to develop new flavors to suit local palates.

—Courtesy Pacific Community

“Cottonii” seaweed is the traditional name of farmed seaweed in the Solomon Islands, a country composed of six major islands and over 900 smaller islands located in the Pacific to the east of Papua New Guinea. With a population of over seven hundred thousand, it has a GDP per capita of USD 2,295.

Seaweed farming is one of the main sources of income on the islands of Wagina and Manaoba and is often run as a family business. All steps of farming, including establishment of the farm, harvesting, replanting, maintenance, drying and packing, are taken care of by the family production unit.

Since the establishment of seaweed farming in Solomon Islands in 2002, seaweed has been farmed primarily for export as a dried raw product. Until recently, there has been no value-added processing of the raw seaweed product, such as cooking or packing, which could further strengthen a small, family business.

This began to change in 2018, when the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) in the Solomon Islands requested the Pacific Community (SPC) to assist their seaweed farmers in developing alternative seaweed products to supplement their daily income in rural coastal areas.

When a product, especially a food product, gets a value-added transformation, it increases its commercial value. A study was carried out in 2019 to identify suitable products that could be developed using locally available resources and improve their livelihood options. “This is why the Pacific Community and the MFMR have teamed up to train seaweed farmers in Wagina and Manaoba in developing value-added products, including its cost-benefit analysis, and supplying simple equipment for these farmers,” explained Avinash Singh, SPC Aquaculture Officer.

During two training sessions jointly organized by SPC and the MFMR in May 2021 with support from the consulting firm Aqua Energie LLC, thirty-three women and sixteen men from Wagina and Manaoba learned new techniques and tips to boost their seaweed businesses. Using a blend of online training resources and in-person support from MFMR and SPC, participants learned to manufacture healthy, locally produced seaweed snacks, such as crackers, chips and sticks.

Responding to the continued travel restrictions in the region, the trainers developed training videos on production, food safety, packaging, storage and domestic marketing. “Once the farmers have learned the basic concepts of making these seaweed products, they can experiment and try more local ingredients to reduce production costs,” explained Anna Larson, one of the lead trainers. “Introducing seaweed into diets may also provide some nutritional benefits,” she added.

While the training has provided a firm foundation in the basics of production, the farmers are keen to use their local knowledge and resources to better manage the production costs while exploring and developing new flavors to suit local palates.

Through expanding the uses of locally grown seaweed, there are also opportunities for the farmers to sell the products to neighboring communities as well as in the capital, Honiara. “The training provided me with the knowledge of a new product from seaweed,” said Daene Peter of Wagina Seaweed Farmers. “I am very happy and pleased to be part of this new direction.”

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