Sea Cucumbers

Sea cucumbers, filter feeding marine animals that thrive in oceans around the world, may not seem that appetising to most – but a buoyant Chinese market for this curious delicacy could be a major source of income for villagers in north Zanzibar.

With unemployment standing at 90% for 18 to 30 year olds and average weekly incomes standing at just 60p a day, people in rural areas across the archipelago are looking for new ways to increase their incomes.

Following a livelihood analysis in North A district of Zanzibar, Sazani Associate Prof Craig Kensler recognised the viability of sea cucumber on-growing as a livelihood activity for poor coastal villagers

Small ‘Seed’ cucumbers are collected by villagers – or bought cheaply from fishermen – and placed into underwater cages where they are fed on Mangrove mud for around six months before being processed and sold on. This gives the communities a reason to protect the Mangrove forests, one of the richest habitats on earth that trap more CO2 than rainforests and yet have been devastated globally.

The profit margin is huge with good quality trepang, as the meat is called, fetching £50 a kilo on world markets. To date costs in implementing the scheme have been low, two small cages and some fencing to create the growing lagoon at the sea edge. Once the cucumbers reach optimum size, they can grow up to 12 inches long, they are harvested and are then cured in simple solar driers before being sold to Chinese buyers in the island’s capital, Stone Town.

“So far the results of this project are looking very promising and a healthy, sustainable income stream looks likely to be established” said Sazani’s Director Mark Proctor, who directly works with the community.

“It is a very simple process which entails low costs and is not very labour intensive and fits in well with all the other work the villagers do to raise their standard of living. What we hope is that with the success of this one project, other villages across the region will take it up and start to create new incomes for themselves.”

And there is an extra bonus – the bottom feeding sea cucumbers serve a useful role in the marine ecosystem by helping recycle nutrients, breaking down dead organic matter after which bacteria can continue the degradation process to help keep coastal areas clean.

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