Stories about seaweed farming operations led by women crop up in our newsfeed quite often. As a female-run company ourselves, we were intrigued about the socio-economic impacts of our favourite sea vegetable, so co-founder Xa did a little research.
Seaweed farming has created jobs for women and a food source in remote areas of the world in countries such as China, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Africa and the Philippines. It is not only an environmentally friendly industry since it needs no fertilisers, crucially, it creates much needed jobs for women, which they can fit around their everyday chores and lives.
Women- and family-run seaweed farms are successful for two reasons: seaweed harvesters need to be highly flexible to work on the cyclical time scales of the tides and the moon making it difficult to pay workers stable wages. Seaweed farming also has low capital and technological requirements for entry. This has been practised particularly successfully in the Philippines in small scale operations.
Globally about 27.3 million tonnes of farmed seaweed were produced in 2014, worth over $6 billion according to a UN study. Demand for carrageenans (an extract from red seaweeds) used commercially in food as a binder, or for suspension and stabilization in a wide range of products in food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics, seaweed usage continues to rise every year.
With the source of carrageenans, Chondrus Crispus, becoming more scarce by the late 1960s the oceans of the world were scoured for an alternative. This resulted in Eucheuma, a seaweed found in the South Philippines, being identified as a good source of carrageenan, which meant that the Philippines soon became the top supplier over Canada, which had dominated the market. The lower cost of labour incentivised companies to shift their buying to Asia as a cheaper alternative.
This success in the Philippines was followed by Indonesia where they successfully harvested two species Kappaphycus Alvarezii (cottonii) and Euchema Denticulatum (spinosum). Malaysia and Tanzania have achieved significant production, although since 2000, Indonesia is now the world’s top producer of cottonii. India, Mexico and the Solomon Islands are all newcomers to the industry and have great prospects of making coastal communities more profitable through small scale seaweed farming.
According to a Fisheries and Aquaculture report  the socio-economic impact of seaweed farming on coastal communities has been overwhelmingly positive. Small-scale family operations are favoured over corporate, plantation style farms and generates substantial employment relative to other forms of aquaculture such as coastal fisheries which are subject to gross exploitation.
There is evidence that many of the villages where over fishing was a problem, lived well below the poverty level and with the income from seaweed farming can now send their children to school, make improvements to their houses, improve their diets and have more financial security. It has also helped improve the status of women within their communities and in society as a whole.
According to this study there is clear evidence that carrageen seaweed farming can raise the socio-economic status of coastal communities in developing countries.
As co-founder of Mara Seaweed, Xa knows a thing or two about seaweed and has recently written the bible on cooking with it. Pick up a copy of The Seaweed Cookbook on Amazon or in Waterstone's, then use the code COOKBOOK for a 10% discount on our seaweed to make all the delicious recipes.
 FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper 580 Social and Economic Dimensions of Carrageenan Farming