Over the past few decades, commercial seaweed farming has radically changed the socioeconomic position of women in Zanzibar’s rural coastal communities. Seaweed is farmed in Zanzibar for the extract carrageenan, which is used as a stabilizer and thickener around the world in many food products and toiletries.
For cultural reasons, when opportunities arose to farm seaweed in Zanzibar, they fell to women, and as the industry become more profitable, women who had previously been completely dependent on their husbands for their livelihoods became breadwinners in their families.
But now, the industry—and rural women’s new-found status in Zanzibar—is under threat as warming seawater temperatures attributed to climate change cause crops to fail. Journalist Haley Joelle Ott met the scientist who is fighting to save the seaweed industry in Zanzibar, as well as women’s place in it.