Farmers at the Coast are making a fortune from growing a plant that does not require soil, fertiliser, chemicals or even weeding.
Growers in Kibuyuni, Kwale County are reaping from producing seaweed, which earns them up to Sh1.8 million collectively per year.
In one harvest, a dedicated farmer can produce a tonne of dried seaweed, which fetches Sh30,000. And this is just after 45 days translating to between eight to 10 harvests every year.
Seaweed has various uses. It can be used to make soap, shampoo, jam, toothpaste as well as juice.
Extracts from the dried weed are used as homogenisers and thickeners in pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food industries.
It can also be utilised as an additive to soils. The high fibre content of the seaweed acts as a soil conditioner and the mineral content as fertiliser.
Ms Fatuma Mohammed, chairperson of the Kibuyuni farmer’s group, which was founded in 2010, says all they need is the ocean.
She is among 80 members who have acquired knowledge and skills on farming seaweed from the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KEMFRI).
KEMFRI has been leading other research agencies in conducting studies on the commercial viability of seaweed.
Speaking to the Business Daily during the World Ocean Day celebrations in Gazi, as she retailed some of the many varieties of products from seaweed, Ms Mohammed said the weed is tied in a straight rope that can hold 49-50 seedlings at ago on the seabed.
Close monitoring is done to clean and tighten the ropes as well as replace those washed away or unhooked by tides.
“Harvesting is done by ripping off mature weeds from the ropes and loading them for drying in an open area for about three to four days,” said Ms Mohammed.
After harvesting the group waits for at least six days to put new seedlings.
“We never thought that the seaweed has a commercial value; We are happy now that we learnt the skills from KEMFRI,” she added.
The women group has particularly taken to making soap from the seaweed, which has medicinal uses and can treat rashes and itches, leaving the skin tender and soft.
“We sell a piece of soap and a half litre of shampoo from the seaweed at Sh100 each,” she said as she showed the samples of the products.
Their efforts, she added, have already been rewarded as one kilo of dried seaweed fetches a market price of Sh30.
Although the group has been economically empowered, Ms Mohammed says there are challenges with marketing their products.
“We only have one client since 2016. We have a stock of at least 50 tonnes of dried seaweed yet to be sold,” said Ms Mohammed.