Rapid and uncontrolled coastal development has resulted in increased habitat loss in Belize’s coastal zone. It is estimated that about 75-80 per cent of all coastal land in Belize has been purchased for the development of tourism and residential areas, posing a serious threat to mangroves, coastal wetlands and other coastal ecosystems.
The Placencia Producers Cooperative Society Limited (PPCSL) was formed in 1962, in an effort to consolidate local fishers’ occupational activities and income. Since the 1950s, Placencia, Belize has been a thriving fishing community; however, due to poor regulation and overfishing, as well as anthropogenic pressures on the marine ecosystems, in the 1990s, fish stocks were in decline and PPCSL looked for ways to diversify their livelihoods.
Towards a Solution
To address the above challenge, PPCSL fishers looked at seaweed cultivation as a supplemental livelihood alternative, inspired by St. Lucian fishers. Seaweed provides a natural habitat for many marine species and also provides excess nutrient uptake as an ecosystem service. Cultivating seaweed helps to reduce fishing pressure by providing fishers with an alternative source of income and serves as a model for adapting to the effects of climate change.
To roll out this initiative, the Global Environment Facility-Small Grant Programme (GEF SGP) implemented by UNDP and United Nations Foundation provided a grant to PPCSL to pilot a project on commercial seaweed cultivation. The grants supported the development of a market study and subsequent business plan, and the project turned out to be a success, with a market and a prosperous industry following suit. PPCSL provided training sessions to improve the capacity of the community on information technology, accounting and the use of QuickBooks, as well as business administration. Furthermore, support was provided for the establishment of 20 seaweed farms with the necessary equipment for planting, monitoring, harvesting and processing the seaweed crop for sale locally and internationally. A boat and engine were purchased to carry out these activities.
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Belize Fisheries Department, the Southern Environmental Association and PPCSL for a one-square mile Special Development Zone within the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, which was intended for seaweed cultivation expansion. A seaweed cultivation manual and seaweed curriculum were also developed. This led to the establishment of a long- term partnership with a private investor, Coral Caye Limited, to replicate, upscale and mainstream the seaweed industry in Belize. Coral Caye Ltd. is currently constructing the 5,000-square foot processing facility near Independence Village, Stann Creek District to create value-added products for use and sale by the PPCSL. Together, the partners continue to develop improved methodologies for seaweed cultivation and additional revenue streams, which they continue to share with interested parties.
Due to the success of this initiative, Belize shared this good practice with Colombian fishers who were introduced to the seaweed cultivating and harvesting methodologies of PPCSL. During the exchange visit to Belize, two women and four men from the Old Providence and Santa Catalina Fishing and Farming Cooperative in Providencia Island, Colombia learned how to design a seaweed farm, select an appropriate site, construct anchors, set up the farm, and select the best seeds for high crop yields.
After the initial exchange in Belize, a member of the PPCSL travelled to Colombia to provide additional hands-on training to the Old Providence and Santa Catalina Fishing and Farming Cooperative. The initiative has been replicated by both the Turneffe Seaweed Growers and the Sarteneja Fishermen Association in Belize.
As a result of exchange between Colombia and Belize, the Colombian fishers have put their received training to use in their own country, where they are involved in a pilot project ”Algae Cultivation Pilot Project and Development of Products Based on its Derivatives”, with Coralina, Utadeo and Fish and Farm C-Enterprise. Through established seaweed farms, they have generated value-added products such as a recently launched, highly nutritious drink called Seaweed Punch. They are now involved in promoting seaweed cultivation as a viable economic livelihood. This practice was also shared with Cuba.
This South-South exchange experience demonstrates how replicable seaweed farming is across the region, through peer-to-peer knowledge transfer. This knowledge transfer gives participants a better grasp of, and hands-on experience with, seaweed cultivation, a sustainable, environmentally friendly and highly replicable practice. Direct exchanges provide participants with a better understanding of the seaweed practices and farming, and the opportunity to quickly obtain answers to questions, making them a very effective tool for imparting applicable knowledge.
Sustainable Development Goal target(s): 14.2, 14.7