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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In Japan and South Korea, Undaria farming is done by farmers who belong to the fisheries cooperative. In China, Undaria farming is usually carried out by companies instead of family households.
In South Korea, farmers typically belong to a “fishing village contract” and have private farms. These farms, especially those in the Southern province of Jeonnam, are large scale and have several employees. However, South Korea has seen similar demographic developments as Japan, which makes it difficult to find enough labour locally. Labour costs have increased dramatically and make up about 40% of the entire cost of production. Many farmers rely on migrant workers from Southeast Asia who move to farms seasonally.
In Japan, all farmers are cooperative members, while everyone has their own unit where they work. Almost all farmers run small operations in a family-based household industry. A small local fishery cooperative would usually have around 30 members. In recent decades, the number of farming households in Japan has been decreasing significantly. In 1973 there were over 20,000 farming families, while today only 3,000 remain. 35% of all farmers are over 65 years old, and 76.7% do not have successors.
In the North of China, in Dalian in particular, about 90% of farms are run by companies and operate at a scale that’s about 10 times larger than farm sites in South Korea. Since operations are large and tasks have to be carried out manually, these companies employ many workers. Certain tasks are physically demanding and labour costs have been increasing rapidly (a farm worker currently earns about 28,000 USD or 200,000 yuan annually).