seaweed lady on beach

December Aquaculture Update

The end of 2016 brought mixed fortunes for the farmers involved in the Darwin Initiative-funded Alternative Livelihoods programme developed by Reef Doctor in partnership with DRRHP (Regional Director of Fisheries), COPEFRITO/IOT, and FRDA. Seaweed farmers brought modest harvests for sale with Ifaty selling 780 kg, Amboaboaky selling 101 kg, and Ambolomailake selling 787 kg.  In contrast, Madriano more than quadrupled their previous harvest, with 574 kg sold, and Betsibaroke was just 21 kg shy of a record harvest, selling an impressive 2559 kg. With sales every month there will be another chance to improve on these figures soon.

The seaweed farmers of Mangily, who have not sold seaweed since August due to an infection of epiphytic filamentous algae, received confirmation that they will be able to start farming activities again in January, with deliveries of healthy seaweed propagules from Reef Doctor’s seaweed nursery, to begin soon.

Sea cucumber figures in the village of Andrevo were as impressive as ever with 510 individuals sold. Farmers in Ambolomailaky also had a little extra for New Years celebrations (New Year celebrations are much more important than Christmas celebrations in Madagascar) with 922 individuals sold. Sea cucumber farming activity generated 6.68 million Ariary in December.

The total income generated by the Alternative Livelihoods programme in December was 9.56 million Ariary.  That’s the equivalent of 2,881 USD!

2016 ended on a positive note for everyone involved in the programme. 107 new households joined the programme in 2016 and the go ahead was given for the construction of a communal storage facility and drying table in the village of Betsibaroke. The magasin is currently under construction and will house dried seaweed between harvesting and sale, which will allow the farmers to store larger volumes of seaweed, and offer protection from rain which can damage the harvest.  We are confident this positive thread will carry on running through 2017!

Report by Cale Golding & Ivana Rubino

Sea cucumber aquaculture site

Poverty and Alternative Livelihoods in the Bay of Ranobe

The first half of 2016 has been a busy year for the Alternative Livelihoods team at Reef Doctor, with the Darwin Initiative funded project expanding into three new villages, and 120 new households joining in aquaculture activities.

The programme, designed to give impoverished turtle hunters and beach-seiners a less destructive and more sustainable source of income, provides training, start-up materials, access to markets and ongoing support so fishermen can establish seaweed and sea cucumber farms. While there is no conservation ‘silver bullet’, the tie between poverty and resource consumption means that addressing one aspect can influence the other. By transitioning fishermen from being resource consumers to resource producers, participants are empowered to manage their marine resources. As reliance on fishing declines, competition for limited resources is reduced, resulting in greater incentive to provide for long-term management. Diversification of livelihoods and productive, sustainable employment leads into the conservation of marine resources, and is achieving substantial results.

In the first four months of 2016, seaweed and sea cucumber farming across the bay have generated a combined income of over 29 million MGA (9,171 USD). This is a substantial boost to the economy of one of the poorest regions in the world, and is almost double the total income generated from these activities in 2015. Not only are more households signing up for alternative livelihoods, but existing households are embracing the activity, spending less time fishing and increasing their productivity. For the first time, households are earning above the poverty line, allowing them access to things they couldn’t have before.

“Do you see that?” asks Seraphine, a sea cucumber farmer from the village of Andrevo as she points to a roll of corrugated iron in her house. “That’s my new roof. That’s from sea cucumbers”.

For the traditionally fishing-based villages of the Bay of Ranobe, the new aquaculture industry is reducing vulnerability to environmental and social changes, and declining fishery catches.

“When I only relied on fishing I could come home with no fish”, claims Ferolle, a seaweed farmer from the village of Ifaty. “I am no longer worried about finding food… I can always expect to get something at the end of the (seaweed) growing cycle”.

This surety, that there will be a regular income every month, is almost as welcome as the income itself. The constant strain of living day-to-day, of not knowing if there will be enough food to eat, is a reality for the majority of people in this region. Productive employment in aquaculture farms is giving quality of life back to the people of the Bay of Ranobe, relieving the daily burden of living in poverty.

Poverty presents itself in many ways; as income, as health, as education, as vulnerability, as environmental capital, as quality of life. Reef Doctor’s Alternative Livelihoods project is demonstrating just how interconnected these aspects are, and how something as seemingly small as seaweed can change a life.

Story by Aquaculture Project Manager Cale Goldin; photos by Comms Officer Ivana Rubino

seaweed line maintenance

May Aquaculture Update: Record Seaweed Sales!

Seaweed farmers across the Bay of Ranobe were busy in May, finishing upgrades to their farms
which allow an increase in productivity. As part of the on-going support Reef Doctor provides to participants in this Darwin Initiative funded programme, seaweed farmers received extra materials and training in a new method of attaching seaweed to their rope – an improvement which allows them to grow more seaweed on their existing farm. The benefits of this new technique were quickly realised, with three out of five villages engaged in the programme boasting record harvests. Combined, the villages of Ifaty, Mangily, Amboaboaky, Ambomolailaky and Betsibaroke sold 9,376 kgs of dried seaweed, an increase of 66% from the last sale in those villages.

Combined with the income generated from sea cucumber harvests (400 sea cucumbers sold from the village of Andrevo), participants in our alternative livelihoods programme received 6,355,500 MGA in May. That’s the equivalent of $2,012 USD, and a 37% increase since last month! All told, the results from May suggest that seaweed and sea cucumber farmers are embracing their new sustainable livelihood, and looking forward to a brighter future.

Continuing with our farmers’ profiles, this month we would like to introduce you to Melene, who farms seaweed with her brother Joany. Reef Doctor communications officer Ivana Rubino met with her at her home in Ambolomailaky.

Seaweed Farmers: Melene (25) and Joany (18)
Village: Ambolamailkay
Occupation: Fishermen (Fish and Octopus) and marine gleaning

Melene skilfully removes scales from a basin of fish at her feet. Around her, family and friends help with the preparation of food. They chatter back and forth in their fast-paced Vezo dialect. It is late in the afternoon and Melene’s compound is busy but relaxed with people coming back from fishing, farming and other activities. Children are playing and eating corn on the cob. A group of watchful women attend small portable stoves filled with charcoal – the only cooking fuel available in this region. The smell of frying fish permeates the air.

“I started farming seaweed because it is good for us”, Melene says. She gestures towards the basin full of large fresh fish at her feet. “To buy fish like this”. Melene’s seaweed farm helps with some of her family’s most pressing needs, like food security, but they still struggle with larger expenses. “It is not enough for now. My seaweed is like that,” Melene says, pointing to a small sack of dried seaweed, worth about 5,000 Ariary. It is a small harvest, but she is optimistic. “It is still good, my seaweed is growing well. I work in the sea three or four days a week. The problem is I don’t have a pirogue. We use someone else’s pirogue. I will find a pirogue to go there every day”.

Melene is different to many seaweed farmers in the Bay of Ranobe. The majority of farming households are comprised of husband and wife teams. Generally, the husbands look after the seaweed in the water, while women take care of the on-land activities, such as drying and preparing the seaweed for sale. While there are female seaweed technicians, water beyond the intertidal zone is still considered by many to be the working place of men. Women traditionally stick to the intertidal zone, collecting urchins, octopus, or whatever else they can find living among the rocks. The money found from gleaning the intertidal zone is small in comparison to the income that can be found fishing the deeper waters of the bay – the money that men bring into the household. For Melene however, who borrows a pirogue to brave the deeper waters, seaweed farming is an opportunity to provide for her family. “I am more respected in my household when I do this [farm seaweed]”, she says.

Particularly in the rural areas of Southwest Madagascar, a male-dominated society prevails. The Olo Be, or village elders, who settle disputes and preside over each community, is exclusively male. The opportunity for women like Melene to work and lead her household gives them a voice in public life. Melene speaks confidently while she works, clearly comfortable being the spokesperson for her family. She acknowledges that her farm is still small, and will have to grow to provide all the necessities for her family, but what strikes me is her self-assuredness. “I will find a pirogue to go there every day”, she said. Not ‘I will try’, or ‘hopefully I can find’, but ‘I will’. And I believe her.

Written by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino and Aquaculture Project Manger Cale Golding

seaweed lady on beach

April Aquaculture Update & Sea Cucumber Farmer Interview

Seaweed farming continued to grow across the Bay of Ranobe in April, with record harvests in the villages of Amboaboaky and Ifaty.  The former sold a total of 382 kg, and the latter an impressive 2,837 kg of dried seaweed.  Together with farmers in Mangily, seaweed farms in the bay generated 1,723,000 MGA.

After the large sea cucumber harvests last month, sales this month were more modest in the villages of Andrevo and Ambolomailaky.  A total 688 sea cucumbers were harvested from community managed farms, with a value of 2,903,000 MGA.  The total income generated by the Darwin Initiative-funded alternative livelihoods in April was $1,468 USD, money that would not otherwise be available to these rural communities.


Last month, we introduced you to Ferolle and Vola, husband and wife seaweed farmers from the village of Ifaty.  This month, ReefDoctor Communications Officer Ivana Rubino travelled to the village to Ambolomalaiky, to meet to sea cucumber farmers Lera and Soahasy Raberzery.


Lera (58) and Soahasy (54)

Village: Ambolomailaky

Occupation: Fishermen (fish, octopus, turtles) and marine gleaning

We asked Lera what he thought of the project when it began. “Before we always dived for sea cucumbers and we knew the value of cucumbers. When the sea cucumber project came here we knew that it would be a big benefit to us”, Lera says.  “I know that the resources in the sea are decreasing now and I know that it [farming] is an alternative livelihood for us and I know that it protects our way of living in the sea”.

Lera pauses for a moment, and looks off in the direction of the sea.  His pens are not visible from his house, but one can see that his thoughts are out there in the water.  We are sitting by the house he shares with his wife Soahasy, on tihy, traditional mats made of leaves.  It is early afternoon, siesta hour, and there is a quiet stillness to the family compound.

“It would be different for me if the project was not there. I could find money but it isn’t the same.  I could buy pots if I work in the same job I had before but I could not manage to pay for something that has a big value like [improvements to] the house or anything like that”.

“We see that there is a change in our household”, Sohasy adds.  “For instance we have a vondro house and we can change it step by step to be made of corrugated metal”.  Vondro is the typical construction material for Vezo houses.  It is a form of dried reed that is relatively inexpensive, but does not last long and offers limited protection from the elements.  The income earned from sea cucumber farming allows such investments that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive.

“I can see that it helps a lot for food that we have in our household,” Soahasy continues.  We encountered Soahasy earlier this morning, maintaining her sea cucumber pens.  She talks now with the same sense of energy which with she cleaned her pens.  She is clearly happy to talk about her experiences with sea cucumbers, and list the changes in their lives since they began the project.

“Our children don’t go to the public school, they can now go to the convent school,” she says.  Public schools in the region are typically under-resourced, over-populated and provide only a basic level of education.  This low level of education makes it very difficult for people in the village to find suitable employment.  As a result, they turn to fishing as a way to eke out a livelihood.  In providing quality education, Lera and Soahasy are offering their children a future that is not entrenched in poverty.

“It changed our life a lot.”

Story by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino and Aquaculture Project Manger Cale Golding

seaweed farmer and his son

March Seaweed & Sea Cucumber Sales

Seaweed and sea cucumber sales are now taking place monthly in the Bay of Ranobe and the results are impressive. In the village of Betsibaroke, seaweed farmers had their first sale, and sold a whopping 2,402 kg of dried seaweed.  Together with the villages of Ifaty, Mangily and Ambolomailaky, over 5,000 kg of seaweed was harvested and sold in March.  For the sea cucumber farming villages of Andrevo and Ambolomailaky, almost 1,600 sea cucumbers were sold over two nights.  Combined, our Darwin Initiative funded alternative livelihoods project injected 3,073 USD (9,635,500 MGA) into the economies of these villages.

With such large scale success across the bay of Ranobe, it is sometimes easy to forget the impact that this project is
having at smaller scales.  With this in mind, we explored how alternative livelihood activities are reducing vulnerability and enhancing well-being in the Bay.  Ivana Rubino spoke with households engaged in seaweed and sea cucumber farming about their experiences, and we will be sharing these insights with you in the months to come.  The first account is of seaweed farmer Ferolle and his wife Vola.


Ferolle (33) and Vola (30)

Village: Ifaty

Occupation: Seaweed farmer and turtle fisher

“When I only relies on fishing I could come home with no fish,” Ferolle says.  “Life is easier now and is less tiring. Fishing is tiring but that is now a second activity after seaweed farming”.  Ferolle is a big man, and it easy to imagine him rowing his lakana (ocean-going pirogue) out of the Bay to find the big fish in the Mozambique Channel, or hauling in his large fishing nets.  He does not look like the sort of person to tire easily, and his comments speak more to the difficulty of fishing as a livelihood, than his personal stamina.  “I still fish three afternoons a week, (but) I am no longer worried about finding food.  I can always expect to get something at the end of the (seaweed) growing cycle”.

Ferolle and Vola have been farming seaweed since early 2015.  Ferolle grows the seaweed in the water while Vola dries the seaweed and takes care of the operation on land.  Their success at seaweed farming has allowed Ferolle to expand his experiences and he has received further training as a community seaweed technician.

“I always enjoyed seaweed farming, but being a technician is very cool”, he says.

As a community technician, Ferolle assists villagers that want to start farming seaweed.  He teaches them how to manage their seaweed ropes to grow the best seaweed, and how to solve any problems that might arise.  “I had the opportunity to learn, and now I have the opportunity to teach others”.

It is clear that Ferolle and Vola’s involvement in seaweed farming is improving their quality of life.  “Our extra IMG_2787 copyincome depends on what we produce every month but with the money we have made we can make provisions that we could not make before. We have more time and more money and can take care of our family better.  Things I didn’t have before or couldn’t afford, I now can have.”

For Ferolle, part of reason he enjoys seaweed farming is that culturally, it is similar to fishing.  “It is good to be able to combine farming and fishing.  The seaweed project could have been started a long time ago”, he says.  Ferolle identifies with the Vezo people of southwest Madagascar – those who make their livelihoods from the ocean.  The sea and fishing are integral parts of Vezo culture, and form their group identity.  “It fits with the Vezo lifestyle because it is not taking away part of being Vezo. It suits Vezo life”.  Ferolle and Vola’s success in seaweed farming is largely dependent on how well it conforms to the local culture.  “I enjoy it as a Vezo man”.

Story by Head of Aquaculture Cale Goulding & Interview by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino