Risky Business: Bringing Seaweed to Nias


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Aceh_1 Seaweed. When I first heard about it, my inner bureaucrat voice made menacing sounds. The idea was to introduce seaweed cultivation to Nias Island, an island off the west coast of Sumatra. Nias, hitherto known only for surfing, does not yet have a seaweed industry. People on the coast are traditionally fishermen. What if the seaweed doesn't grow, or if the people there just don't want to try new things? It sounds risky.

But luckily for the people of Nias, the inner bureaucrat was quickly silenced. The conditions there are simply fabulous for seaweed cultivation. Many factors come into play: wave action, light intensity, salinity, depth, and overall water quality. And Nias has it all. And seaweed production has low-cost inputs, making market entry relatively easy. Seaweed is in higher demand than you might expect, being used in areas as diverse as food processing and cosmetics. Another big plus is that it provides employment opportunities for women.

And the best thing of all is that some coastal communities were willing to give it a try. Our studies showed that it could be done, so how could we NOT do it?

Getting 1.3 tons of seaweed to Nias was a bit tricky. We flew in three promising seaweed species from Maumere and Bali. The seaweed was packed in crates and flown in through Medan, Indonesia's largest city in Sumatra. Here, our team experienced its first seaweed crisis: half the shipment disappeared somewhere at the Medan airport. It’s hard enough explaining seaweed purchases to accounting, but to lose a half-ton of the stuff would be a disaster. A story like that would be discussed by IFC staff in bars around the globe for years to come.

But luckily, we tracked the seaweed down, and it made its way to the village of Ladara on Nias island. There, with the help of two field facilitators and a visiting seaweed expert, 50 villagers learned how to tie it to lines and plant it in the water. Here our team had its second seaweed adventure. Some of the seaweed was not properly tied and drifted into the ocean. After the trauma in Medan, there was no way we were going to lose our seaweed. So our team set a good example for generations of Nias seaweed farmers to come, and went wading into the ocean after it. That probably did more to cut costs and help the environment than double-sided printing.

Two of the three seaweed types are doing well. The trial is far from over; we still have harvesting and drying before us. If the trials are successful, we will introduce seaweed to other villages. And I hope that in a year's time we will be able to say that coastal communities in Nias have a new livelihood, and higher incomes, because of our work. That will shut up my inner bureaucrat for some time to come.




David Lawrence

Communications Consultant

Join the Conversation

Wendy Werner
March 06, 2007


Great post. This is the type of story that I look for from the PSD blog - on the ground, in the field (or the water as the case may be). This is what building a new business or industry is about. I didn't even neeed to look at the picture to imagine the scene.

Hope the seaweek thrives. Keep us posted!


March 08, 2007

Ditto - thanks for an engaging and informative look at development on the ground. We need to hear more stories like this - real staffers doing real work with real people and (hopefully) with real results. I agree - keep us posted on progress - and other similar projects you're involved in.

March 12, 2007

What are the ecological effects/repercussions of introducing seaweed? Have any studies on the long term effect been conducted? Introducing foreign species to an enviornment is never as easy as it seems and often turns out to be more costly than profitable in the long run . . .

July 16, 2007

Very informative, so how does the seaweed business now?

Arif Octovian
November 12, 2007

Dear David,

I would like to do Seaweed Business, however I'm still very new regarding the seaweed. I live at Jakarta but one of my uncle live at Bali. Can you tell me where to find information such as type of seaweed that are popular in the international market, how to sell,etc?

I would also like to know if we can give some added value to the seaweed so the farmers will definitely have a better income potential.

Kind Regards,

Arif Octovian

November 04, 2008

Are there comments on the current idea to manufacture fuel from algae?