It is estimated that Kenya earns around 2.5 billion dollars annually from its ocean resources, a positive indication that there can be a potential growth of the country’s GDP through the embrace of Blue Economy.
At Kibuyuni village in Kwale County, a group of around 50 members is already making fortunes from seaweed farming, a project that has improved the livelihoods of many families in the area.
According to Fatuma Mohamed the chairperson of Kibuyuni Seaweed Farmers Group, this project started back in 2010 after a research done by Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KEMFRI) between 2001 and 2002 on the decline of artisanal fish catches.
Fatuma says that the research results showed that a certain species of seaweed spinosium (Eucheuma Denticalatam) that could be grown at the area.
|Fatuma Mohamed second right and other members of Kibuyuni Seaweed Famers Group. / Photo: Ali Kipapuro|
In 2011 Kibuyuni Seaweed Farmers who by then were 27 in number got funding from PACT-Kenya an Non Governmental Organization to enhance their project. Each member had a six block farm with a capacity of 300 seaweed planting ropes. Today Kibuyuni Seaweed Farmers grow two species of seaweed which are the spinosium (Eucheuma Denticalatam) and Cottonii (Kappaphycus Alvarezii). The production cycle of these seaweed species is between 30-45 days here in Kibuyuni.
In 2014 the seaweed farming project expanded to 50 farmers through another funding from Kenya Coastal Development Programme (KCDP). In 2015 the farmers harvested 41.5 tonnes of seaweed making 1,277,490 Kenyan shillings after selling their harvest to a seaweed dealer from Belgium.
Though seaweed has been identified as a good prospect for social and economical development in the area, Fatuma explains that after harvesting farmers dry the product though not through direct sunlight. In 2016, Kibuyuni Seaweed Farmers got funding from Food and Agriculture Organization FAO which constructed a drying shed for them. She also says that FAO trained them on value addition and today they used the seaweed they grow to make soaps, lotions, cookies, cakes, shampoos, juices and jam which they sell to local markets.
|Kibuyuni seaweed drying shed funded by FAO. / Photo: Neema Mwachome|
In the 2016/17 financial year, the County Government of Kwale through the department of Trade and Cooperative Development constructed a Seaweed Collection Center here in Kibuyuni, a project which has benefited the seaweed farmers who are now storing their product in a safe place. Through this project the County Government of Kwale is encouraging the growth of the county’s economy through the Blue Economy initiative. Before this project, the farmers incurred losses as they used to store the seaweed they harvested in their houses. During rain seasons the product lost its value due to poor conditions of some of their houses.
Fatuma says that from their earning Kibuyuni Seaweed Farmers invested in table banking and merry go round initiatives.
When processing their products, the Kibuyuni Seaweed Farmers Group members have to pass the seaweed through various stages in their Collection Center. First the seaweed is put inside a Hot Air Electric Drier several times until its completely dry. After this stage, the seaweed is then take to a Pulverizing Machine which chops it into sizable portions which are collected in specific buckets to the next stage.
|Some of the machines used to process seaweed products by Kibuyuni Seaweed Farmers Group. / Photo Ali Kipapuro|
From the Pulverizing Machine, the seaweed chops are the take to the third stage which is the Pelletizing Machine which make the seaweed into pellets which are in turn collected and take to Disk Milling Machine which grinds them. The seaweed powder is then taken to a Siftering Machine which sifts the finest powder to be taken to the next processing stage.
After siftering, the seaweed powder is ready for making soaps and shampoos. Here it is fed into a Portable Stirrer where it is mixed with the required amount of coloring, oil, and fragrance at a set temperature. The jelly is then collected in specific buckets a kept to cool. Later this collection is put into the last machine known as the Soap Plodder which performs a process known as the soap extrusion process.
|Bar soaps made from seaweed. / Photo: Ali Kipapuro.|
According to Fatuma Mohammed who is the chairperson of Kibuyuni Seaweed Farmers, seaweed also has medicinal values. She says that many tooth pastes are made using seaweed. She says that the use seaweed soaps cures rashes, skin ulcers and ring worms that are caused by fungi. She also says that consumption of seaweed as food boosts the immunity system, and according to her it is good for people living with HIV.