Innovative Seaweed Breeding and Seeding for Women’s Empowerment

by Lodi Kini

Savu is a remote island in Eastern Indonesia, with limited economic opportunities on the island. This is exacerbated by economic disparities created by gender inequality, especially for female-headed households. In Savunese culture, female-headed households are commonly found when women have kids outside marriages – which in Savu is not discouraged. However, female-headed households tend to be economically vulnerable, as Savunese livelihoods are dominated by subsistence roles where each gender plays a prescribed role. Men as gatherers (outside homes) and women as processors (inside homes). 

The project –supported by Australian Program Impact Fund- aims to empower rural female heads of households and young adult women in one of the two seaweed farming centers on Savu Island (Nusa Tenggara Timur, Indonesia) by improving coastal livelihood through innovative seaweed breeding and seeding. The seaweed economy involves intense manual labor, and in the absence of male members of the family, women are often struggling. Due to physical and financial limitations, they often end up not being able to cultivate and achieve economies of scale. Time and energy allocation is a dilemma; because for every hour spent in the water is time being absent from family care-taking tasks.

Figure 2. IRGSC researcher conducting in-depth interview with woman (seaweed) farmers in Hawu Mehara’s village

The current seaweed farming practice allows either small/daily basic harvest resulting in small earnings, or one-time mass harvest allowing a considerable amount of yearly income (longer return of investment (ROI)). This requires households to have saving to buffer for months of dried-seaweed stock-piling.     

The project seeks to develop options for a faster ROI, not by selling full-grown seaweed but by cultivating seaweed seeds for sale – seed availability is still an issue (unmet demand) for the island. The project will establish basic infrastructure and train women in an innovative approach to breed (cultivate spores) and develop seeds off-site – not in the water but in beach huts through simple cultivation pools with reduced risks.

The short-term goal of this project is to reduce gender-based economic inequality by providing a women-friendly seaweed economy, especially for female heads of households and young adults –as this groups are vulnerable to gender-based economic segregation. This project also aims to empower women economically and increase their participation in the production of context-sensitive applied-knowledge. Currently, the seaweed economy on Savu island is mainly by trial and error, not science-based practice.

The involvement of young adults is expected to facilitate practice-based knowledge production that can be applied to improve seaweed cultivation effectiveness and efficiency specifically in the context of Savu island. In the long run, this project aims to contribute to a more sustainable and inclusive blue economy with off-site seaweed cultivation that reduces disruption on the underwater ecosystem.

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