For a long time, the main source of income in Zanzibar was from seaweed farming and trading, but in more recent years that industry became less and less profitable. Eventually, with the help of the non-profit organization, Marine Cultures, the idea of farming sea sponges got tossed around, and now it’s proving women the opportunity to financially provide for their families.
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There are around 500 species of sea sponges, so the farmers in Zanzibar had to do a bit of trial and error to find the right one that would thrive in their water and yield profit. Eventually, they figured out the best species, and it’s often used as a loofa, for cleaning babies, and a gentle way to wash your face.
The ‘crop’ is fascinating on its own, but the farming process makes it all the more interesting. They are environmentally friendly, easy to manage, and provide a reliable stream of income.
According to World at Large, you can create a robust sea sponge farm “with little or no effort.” In fact, in 2019 the farmers’ crop was mostly unusable due to a starfish epidemic (who knew that was a thing?!), but they were able to start a new crop that was set to be thriving by harvest time in 2020.
Through Marine Culture, the sea sponge farms enable “farmers, mostly single women, to provide for their children, improve their quality of life, and reduce poverty.” Nasir, one of the farmers, shared her story on the Marine Culture website, and said, “I am divorced, a single mother and the income I have now is enough to pay for my children’s education and buy better food for all of us. I was also able to start building my own house. The sponges have really changed my life.”
According to the organization, “We train [single women] in maintenance, care, quality management and sale of sponges. After one year of training they take over their own small farm which enables them to secure the income for their family.”
You can learn more about sea sponges, farming, Marine Culture, and the women working the farms here. Once you’ve soaked up all of the information you can (see what we did there?), share the story with your friends!
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