Commercial seaweed farming started in most geographies 50 years ago and is still a very labour intensive sector. It provides multiple jobs along entire coastlines. In most regions seaweed farming is still a family activity where women play a substantial role. In other cases, corporate structures have developed around the industry.
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Euchematoid farming in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia is carried out by household or smallholder farmers instead of commercial companies.
These smallholder farmers typically operate independently, as a family or as a larger household and sell their seaweed individually. They usually aren’t members of farmers’ organisations. Depending on the region, paid per job completed (piecework), is the common model for completing farm tasks. Tying, deploying and harvesting lines is very labour intensive. Workers often come from the same community and can be neighbours. They sometimes work together in a group or for different farmers. Women are deeply involved with farm activities, especially in tying the seaweed.
Families living in coastal and small island communities depend on seaweed farming activities – often as their primary source of livelihood. Many of these farmers are former fishermen who could no longer make their living from their fish catch. Seaweed farming provides a fast and guaranteed harvest, is easy to cultivate with simple technologies and has low production costs, making it a safe income stream and viable alternative to fishing.
Depending on the region and the size of farms, a household might rely on other sources of income and subsistence fishing. Under normal circumstances with average prices and yields, a 2,500 metre culture line can ensure a minimum monthly income of 250 USD. This income is well above the national poverty line in all three countries.
One can often notice the prosperity seaweed businesses bring to the local economy during visits. The industry’s presence in these communities has led to a surge of investment in infrastructure like roads and pipe systems for fresh water and drainage. Farmers also report being able to invest and improve their own livelihoods thanks to seaweed farming.
In many cases, the additional income generated from seaweed farming is being invested in education for younger members of the community. Many farmers with a primary school education proudly shared that their children are attending high school or university.
Farming knowledge is typically passed on from one generation to the next as young family members help with daily farm activities. In the Philippines and Malaysia government programmes provide active support to farmers through training and equipment initiatives. Likewise, the GlobalSeaweedSTAR project distributes information, education and communication materials on best practices directly to farmers.