Low tide is a daily phenomenon in Zanzibar Archipelago which favoured, since 1989, the increase of the commercial cultivation of red seaweeds Eucheuma, promoted mainly by European companies producing carrageenan by extracting these Hydrocolloids from the seaweed, largely used in food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industry.
Carrageenan is a stabilizer contained in many products: yoghurts, ice-creams, puddings, cottage cheese, ham, toothpaste, body creams and shower gels, it is also used in the brewing of some beers. This hydrocolloid is often described by producers as a “natural product coming from the ocean” and it is also present in many products considered to be healthy, organic and vegan. Considering the chemical processes used for carrageenan extracting as well as many studies’ results on its harmful effects to a human body, such as gut cancer, these kind of statements are quite arguable.
Most seaweed farmers are women and mwani (as locals call seaweed) initially gave them a possibility to gain some economic independence but their life standards are still very low and work conditions very hard. The population is 97% Muslim, religious traditions are deeply rooted in the daily life.
Spinosum seaweeds are not taken from the local ocean waters but its strains are imported to Zanzibar from the Philippines. Nowadays seaweed farming is third national industry in terms of economic value. Zanzibar exports its seaweed to China, Denmark, France, The Republic of Korea, Vietnam and USA.
Climate change and raising water temperatures are threatening the seaweed farming in Zanzibar and new farming techniques in deep waters are being studied, impossible for local women who cannot swim nor own a boat. There are few alternatives for the farmers, one of these is a private company teaching women to produce natural beauty products by using local Tanzanian ingredients mixed with the seaweeds’ powder.
Long production chain of a jelly ingredient…. Do we really need it for our survival? Are there more positive or negative impacts on our Earth and human beings?