Seaweed & Co Zanzibar

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My inspiration is flowing back like a tidal water at full moon. Having worked with natural skin care for so many years, I have for some time now found myself gradually lo losing interest. The industry becoming more about beauty, fixation on looks, so many fake products out there….Anyway, my monthlong stay here in Zanzibar has really lit my spark and again I just want to dive in full heartedly and learn more. Inspired by the plant life, the abundance of herbs, spices and fruits, the local traditions, the initiatives here to bring the knowledge to the rest of the world and at the benefit och the island.

I previosly wrote about my visit to Mrembo spa, http://lifebylisen.com/mrembo-spa-in-zanzibar/. Now I have visited another great skin care project, also working with natural, handmade organic skincare inspired by the traditional knowledge carried by the women on Zanzibar: The Seaweed Center in Paje. https://www.facebook.com/seaweedcenterzanzibar/ (website under construction, I’ll get back about that in later post).

kelly logo

Seaweeds, Mwani in Swahili, specifically Euchema Spinosum and Euchema cottonii, are harvested and exported world wide and used mostly in the cosmetics industry, where it is used as a thickening agent. Being one of Zanzibar’s key exports since 1990’s it is used mainly in the cosmetics industry, in medicine and in (!) beer, also used to some in food, for its gelatinous quality. There are 20 000 seaweed farms on Zanzibar. Every morning as I walk along the powdery white beach looking out over the azur blue ocean I see women and children stooping in the shallow low tide collecting the valuable crop.

From planting to harvest takes two months, and needs daily attention. 4 kilos fresh seaweed when dried is reduced to 1 kilo. The farmers get 500 TZS per kilo, which is 0.23 dollars. A whole lot of work, and knowledge, for a whole lot of nothing.

Why seaweed

So, the idea with Seaweed centre, is to develop a high quality seaweed skin care product that can be sold for more. This initiative began as an NGO a number of years ago but wasn’t quite developed to the extent that it could have, until: Kelly Atkins and Klaartje Schade came along. Kelly had been working as a volonteer in other project and when presented with the Seaweed center intrigued by it and and saw the potential they could reach. Kelly was soon joined by Klaartje Schade, who had come across the center when working as a financial banker. Kelly had a career as business adviser at the Chamber of Commerce in London.

Kelly and Klaartje
Kelly and Klaartje

It’s been two years and the center now employs 14 members of staff, who shine with obvious pride for being part of this. The staff speak excellent english thanks to weekly lessons. Mustafa, one of the tour guides who used to be a fisherman, is now current in three languages: Swahili, English (which he also teaches) and French. Next on his list is Italian.

Fatima and her staff sorting the dried seaweed   in the shade of an Indian Almond Tree.
Fatima and her staff sorting the dried seaweed in the shade of an Indian Almond Tree.
The mamas ready to go out to the farm - it's low tide.
The mamas ready to hit the farm.

The day I arrive there is a South AfricanTV crew here to do a piece on the farm. The staff is all very excited, enjoying a moment of fame!

The mamas making the most of playing movie stars!
The mamas making the most of playing movie stars!

Here on Zanzibar there are quite extreme tides: at low tide you can walk out towards the horizon, the white sand and the bright sun makes the landscape resemble a desert. This is when the seaweed farmers prepare the farms and do the necessary work. Only an hour later, the high tides gushes in and covers the landscape with it turquoise water and the sea is filled with Kite surfers  happily enjoying the strong winds. Harvest is done al year except during rain season.

Kelly showing the new drying set up.
Kelly showing the new drying set up.

There are many steps to be dealt with along the way – finding ingredients produced for cosmetic quality, finding packaging (remember this is an island in the Indian Ocean and what may be easily accessible to us in the west to produce anything  really, is not in the least obvious here). But I see the determination and persistance in Kelly’s and Klartjee’s eyes. With a whole lot of patience, they have already come a long way and are already doing so much good for a lot of people, I know they will reach their highly set goals.

Low tide in Paje
Walking out to the farm.

At this stage Kelly and Klaartje have, together with their staff, developed a number of seaweed plantations, developed new methods for drying for higher quality, a production center with potential of expanding within the next few years. They are also in the process of creating new products, constantly exploring the local (along with the seaweed) ingredients such as vanilla, cardamon, coffee, coconut (soon they will be producing their own organic coconut oil), baobab, nutmeg, tumeric, lime, eucalyptus, hibiscus…

Next goal is to get the new packaging ready and send off the first delivery to their distributor in Hungary, who will sell them to various countries in Europe. Lucky for us who live there so we can enjoy the Zanzibar touch.

Also Kelly and Klaartje are looking to produce their own organic natural materials rather than buying them from suppliers. Ingredients they work with are, apart from sea weed, coconut oil, salt, sugar, coffee, aloe vera, honey, lime spices such as cardamon, cinnamon, lemongrass and turmeric. To mention a few.

Tending to the crop
Tending to the crop

At this stage Kelly and Klaartje have, together with their staff, developed a number of seaweed plantations, developed new methods for drying it for higher quality, a production center with potential of expanding within the next few years. They are also in the process of creating new products, constantly exploring the local (along with the seaweed) ingredients such as vanilla, cardamon, coffee, coconut (soon they will be producing their own organic coconut oil), baobab, nutmeg, tumeric, lime, eucalyptus, hibiscus…

Next goal is to get the new packaging ready and send off the first delivery to their distributor (in March) in Hungary, who will sell them to various countries in Europe. Lucky for us who live there so we can enjoy the Zanzibar touch.

Also Kelly and Klaartje are looking to produce their own organic natural materials rather than buying them from suppliers.

Local ingredients Seaweed farm

Here on Zanzibar the products are sold to hotels and spas who offer the handmade soaps, scrubs and gift boxes to their guests.

This is Bi Mtumwa. She is 87 and cooks great food for the staff every day. She has more energy than a 25 year old and is full of laughter and mischief. She asked me to take a picture of her drinking tea. So I did.
This is Bi Mtumwa. She is 87 and cooks great food for the staff every day. She has more energy than a 25 year old and is full of laughter and mischief. She asked me to take a picture of her drinking tea. So I did.

Next in the product line is shampoo, conditioner and shower gel, after that, there will be facial cream, body butters, body lotion….

I am really taken by the vibe here – the staff have really taken their job to heart, made it a mission to move forward with Kelly and Klaartje. They present the products to visitors with such pride, and I do recommend the guided tour where Mustafa, a former fisherman who is nu fluent in three languages (Swahili, English and French, about to embrace Italian) or one of his colleagues takes you out during low tide to the plantation. You will learn everything about how to plant, clean and harvest, get to taste it. Yes – it is an extremely nutricious food!   I am also hoping they will develop some food products…great for hair, skin, nails and bone. Seaweed makes you strong!

Next year I will be back here on the island and I promise I shall follow up and post right here how they are progressing. Already looking forward to it!

Stay happy!

Lisen

 

2 Responses

  1. Fatima Dadoo
    | Reply

    Hi

    I am interested in seaweed products for skincare. I live in Cape Town & have been in the Beauty Industry for 19 years & am passionate about the beneficial effects seaweeds has both internally & externally for skin & body.

    looking forward to your reply

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