04 Mar Surviving the Pandemic through Seaweed Farming
Since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the tourism and hospitality sectors hard in Bali, causing the local economy to freefall. With many hotels, restaurants, and tour operators forced to shut their business down, most Balinese – including those who live adjacent to the Nusa Penida marine protected area (MPA) – have lost their main source of income. In their moment of struggle, some local communities in the Nusa
Penida MPA, however, have demonstrated resiliency by shifting their livelihood from marine tourism to seaweed farming. In the Nusa Penida MPA, the tourism sector has supported more than 90% of local households for years. The sudden stop of tourism activities was admittedly shocking for locals. For months, no tourists came to dive, snorkel, or surf in the islands. Although the number of visitors has slowly increased since the last trimester, it has not contributed much to the recovery of the local economy. In Nusa Lembongan – one of three islands in the Nusa Penida MPA – there are some locals that have initiated seaweed farming. I Komang Soma, a former dive operator staff who has been working as a seaweed farmer since last year, said that although the price of dried seaweed fluctuates, ranging between IDR 13,000 to 15,000 (USD 0.92 to 1.06) per kilogram, it can help his family survive amid this unprecedented time of pandemic.
“Unfortunately, some seaweed suffered from the ice-ice and bulu kucing diseases, resulting in the decrease of the harvest amount,” he said in Lembongan Village, this month. The disease of bulu kucing caused “black hairs” to grow on seaweed’s surface. Meanwhile, the ice-ice disease has caused seaweed to develop sporadic, deadly white spots on its tissue. The cause of these diseases is still unknown, but they are presumably some sort of bacterial or algal infections, which commonly occur during the transition from rainy season to dry season, as it is now. The infection can negatively impact local farmers, as it reduces the total harvest of seaweed significantly.
Local farmers in the Nusa Penida MPA realize that they could have avoided these two diseases by adjusting the seaweed planting time according to the local monsoon calendar. They could have also exchanged the seedlings for ones that are high-quality and disease-resistant. However, both options could not be done during the pandemic due to the farmers’ limited capital and the high need for income.
In a normal situation, according to Mr. Soma, a farmer can earn as much as IDR 1 million (USD 70.16) from collecting dried seaweed once every 45 days from an acre of the cultivation area. Generally, each seaweed farmer in Nusa Lembongan can own 5 to 10 acres of seaweed farmland. Thus, the average income for each farmer can range between IDR 3 to 6 million (USD 210.49 to 420.99) per month.
The chairman of the Segara Raksa farming group in Nusa Lembongan, I Wayan Suwarbawa, added that the seaweed can be processed further into various end products such as soaps, cakes, crackers, ice creams, etc. “The seaweed farmers in Nusa Lembongan are quite creative at the post-harvest stage as they also involve some women’s groups to participate in the process,” he said.
In addition, some local groups in the Nusa Penida MPA have considered turning seaweed farming into a new tourist attraction. The leader of Satya Posana Nusa – a local community group that conserves coral reefs, I Wayan Ujiana, expected that this kind of community resilience effort can be supported by the local government, private sector, donors, or other institutions. Therefore, the people of the Nusa Penida MPA can survive and deal with this unfortunate situation.
has supported the Nusa Penida MPA for years by assisting the MPA establishment process and building the capacity of the MPA management personnel, as well as promoting sustainable marine tourism activities in the islands. Located off the southeast coast of Bali, the Nusa Penida MPA is home to some of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world. The coral reefs in the Nusa Penida MPA have been found to support at least 296 species of corals and 576 species of fishes. Since 2010, the islands of 20,057 hectares have become one of CTC’s learning sites in Indonesia.
Photos by: Purwanto/CTC and Kasman/CTC