Kenya’s Seaweed Farming: Transforming Coastal Blue Economy


The coastline’s natural resources have traditionally shaped the culture and economy of Kenya’s coastal communities. Historically, fishing, primarily a male-dominated occupation, sustained the region economically. Yet, as this resource declined, it sparked a shift towards alternative income sources, prompting women to take on breadwinning roles to support their families. In Kibuyuni village, located in the southern Kenyan coastal area, this transition is particularly evident. The inhabitants rely on the mangrove ecosystem and the ocean as their primary natural resources.

Our organization, Aquaculture beyond borders (ABB), works along the coastal strip of Kenya on matters related to sustainable aquaculture. We actively engage with coastal communities, focusing on the blue economy by aiding aquaculture and bolstering natural ecosystems through mangrove restoration. We recently collaborated with representatives from Kibuyuni community, Kwale county, aiming to grasp the village’s circumstances and aspirations regarding mangrove restoration, fisheries, and seaweed farming. We invited 15 community representatives to a discussion on seaweed farming, mangrove restoration and fishing activities in their village. Women participants active in seaweed farming were the most actively involved community members of our discussion forum. The discussion focused on their interactions with the ocean resources for livelihood benefits. 

Fishing Landing site with patches of Mangrove ecosystems at Kibuyuni. Image source: ABB

From this discussion, we gained new insight about blue economy activities in Kibuyuni village and Kwale county at large. We learnt that although the rocky terrain hinders terrestrial agriculture, which traditionally provided income for inland households, particularly led by women, the village now leans more towards ocean-based activities to supplement earnings. 

This shift is notable since, traditionally, women going to the ocean was taboo. However, declining fishing yields by men gave justified reason for women to engage in economic activities depending on the ocean. They started off with less intensive activities like collecting beads and shells for making ornamental crafts and selling to tourists visiting nearby Shimoni and Wasini Island. Subsequently, women began receiving fish from their male counterparts from the landing sites for value addition and selling. Over time, government-led projects facilitated by the Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) encouraged mangrove conservation as a means to replenish declining fish stocks. This led to active mangrove restoration through nursery establishment and planting. Around 2010, they ventured into seaweed farming, introducing a distinctive agricultural practice in the country.

Rocky landscape in Kibuyuni Village.Image Source: ABB

Mixed species mangrove nurseries at Kibuyuni village Image source: Levis Sirikwa

Despite the rocky coastline, which renders mangrove restoration more challenging, the community at Kibuyuni produces mangrove nurseries. However, due to the unsuitability of the rocky mangrove landscape for the appropriate conduction of these activities, they sell these to the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to aid restoration in more suitable, rocky-free degraded sites nearby. The most commonly potted mangrove species include Red (Rhizophora mucronata), Yellow (Ceriops tagal), and Black (Bruguiera gymnorrhiza) mangroves. Despite facing challenges, the community values their restoration and conservation endeavors, noticing improvements in fish catches—currently, the primary reason for men engaging in fishing. The restoration and conservation of mangroves, vital marine habitats, indirectly support livelihoods by enhancing fish stocks for the community.

The support of the World Bank, through the Kenya Coastal Development Project (KCDP) revolutionised seaweed farming and skewed the blue activities for women in that direction in 2012. The main species of seaweed being farmed in Kibuyuni is the red seaweed (Euchuma denticulatum), commercially known as Spinosum

Red seaweed (Euchuma denticulatum), Spinosum farmed by Kibuyuni seaweed farmers. (Right is the seaweed being dried at the shaded racks, Left is Fatuma Mohammed, a renowned seaweed farmer, at the seaweed farm). Image source: Levis Sirikwa

The project not only enhanced their skill capacity through training but also set up a cottage seaweed processing factory that enhanced value added products to be made from seaweed, other than facilitating the exportation of dried seaweed to a private company. Examples of value added products include seaweed soap, shampoo, hair food, shower gel and body lotion which are locally sold in the country, especially during exhibition fares.

Value added products from Kibuyuni seaweed Farmers. Image source: Levis Sirikwa

Dried seaweed baled ready to be exported. Image source: Levis Sirikwa

Shade drying facility to enhance efficiency in seaweed drying. Image source: Levis Sirikwa

Seaweed open drying. Image source: Levis Sirikwa

Round table discussions about seaweed farming at Kibuyuni. Image source: ABB

As the local communities celebrate the benefits of seaweeds and mangroves to their livelihoods, they also attest that working in the ocean for seaweed farming and mangrove restoration is not for the faint hearted. One ought to be prepared to be exposed to prolonged duration of intensive sunlight, seawater and pricking of the sea urchins and sharp coral rocks which dominate their coastline. 

Group picture of community representatives in Kibuyuni and ABB team.Image source: ABB

We discovered that seaweed farming in Kibuyuni is primarily a part-time endeavour for the local community, influenced by seasonal weather patterns and chosen as a secondary income source. It’s seen as complementary to terrestrial agriculture and fishing, serving as an important yet additional income stream. Despite being predominantly undertaken by women, men play a strategic role in seaweed farming, handling energy-intensive tasks like planting, preparing lines, transporting seeding materials, and harvesting, either manually or using dugout canoes or boats.

Investments in active mangrove restoration and seaweed activities have transformed Kibuyuni from an extremely remote location, opening it up to the world. Infrastructure development, like roads and electricity, supports village operations. Global partners interested in seaweed industry development and mangrove conservation have connected with the community, fostering more partnerships. Local studies confirm that seaweed farming and mangrove restoration practices in the area are environmentally friendly.

Engagement of ABB to understand the impacts of blue activities to Kibuyuni seaweed farmers.
Image source Levis Sirikwa

In addition to the existing factory, the village received a shade drying rack to process large quantities of harvested seaweed, reducing post-harvest losses. However, the rack’s limited capacity forces some farmers to dry seaweed directly under the sun, risking lower product quality and income. Recognizing this challenge, our team saw an opportunity to enhance the drying infrastructure for local seaweed farmers in Kibuyuni and neighboring villages. Moreover, there is significant potential for an integrated multi-trophic aquaculture system (IMTA), which combines seaweed farming and cage farming while including mangrove restoration in suitable areas within the Islands of Mkwiro, Funzi, Wasini, and the shores of Shimoni, Kibuyuni, Mwazaro, and Ramisi-Bodo.

Article tags

Blue economykenyaOceansSeaweed farming