Women in India Embracing “Eco-miracle” Seaweed Farming

Seaweed Farming woman

A woman collects seaweed in the waters off the coast of Rameswaram, in India’s Tamil Nadu state. Photo: courtesy AFP

Abhaya Srivastava reports for Agence France-Presse that while India is the world’s third largest carbon polluter, behind China and the United States, it has yet to set a target date for its emissions to reach net zero. Nonetheless, authorities are looking into how seaweed farming can help. Help to reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, reverse ocean acidification and improve the marine environment. Help also in providing a sustainable livelihood for marginalized coastal communities.

M. Ganesan, a government marine scientist, said seaweed provides a possible way forward as coastal habitats and wetlands absorb five times more carbon than terrestrial forests. “It is a miracle crop in many ways, it is eco-friendly, it doesn’t use land or fresh water. It absorbs carbon dioxide dissolved in water during photosynthesis and oxygenates the entire marine ecosystem,” he said.

India, which has an 8,000-kilometre coastline, is now planning to boost production from the current 30,000 tons to more than one million tons each year by 2025.

Benefit Both the Environment and Farmers

Lakshmi Murgesan is part of a team of women who work together to cultivate fronds of seaweed on bamboo rafts, before harvesting and drying them. The product is then sent to markets nationwide as well as to the US and Australia through AquAgri, a private company that promotes algal cultivation in India.

“Seaweed has a major use as a crop bio-stimulant for increasing productivity and making the crop more resilient to climate induced stresses. It’s also used as an important ingredient in meat and food processing,” Abhiram Seth, managing director of AquAgri, told AFP.

Mr. Seth stresses there is potential to benefit both the environment and farmers like Ms. Murgesan. ”Seaweeds clean up the water. At the same time seaweed cultivators get a sustainable income without having to relocate to urban areas to find work.”

However, scientists warn that there are downsides to farming. “Overharvesting seaweed has its drawbacks because it forms the food for many reef dwelling creatures like sea urchins and reef fish,” said marine biologist Naveen Namboothri, from Dakshin Foundation. “And too much extraction can disturb the reef.”

Conscious of these risks, Ms. Murgesan and the other farmers work for only 12 days a month and don’t harvest during the main fish breeding season, between April and June. “We only grow as much as we need and in a way that doesn’t harm or kill the fish,” she said.

“I am doing this for my children. It requires a lot of hard work, but I am able to earn good profits from about four months of work,” she said, mentioning that she makes 20,000 rupees (US$265) each month farming the macroalgae.

“We face a lot of hazards, but this work has given me and my family some dignity,” she said, adding: “Our living standards have improved and now others in my village also want to become seaweed farmers.”

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