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People in the Penida Archipelago have returned to seaweed farming as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic [Photo: courtesy Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

Seaweed tides over Bali islanders after tourism slump

Click on the flag for more information about Indonesia INDONESIA
Wednesday, September 23, 2020, 14:00 (GMT + 9)

The following is an excerpt from an article published by Aljazeera:

Aquaculture provides fallback for people of the Penida Archipelago as they wait for tourists’ return.

Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia – In the early 1980s, seaweed farming was the main industry on the Penida Archipelago, three sun-kissed islands off Bali’s southeast coast.

But just as aquaculture was about to take off, the striking square seaweed patches that checker-boarded the islands’ bays and inlets faded away.

“When I first came here in 2010, you could see the patches everywhere and smell seaweed drying on the side of every road,” said Valery Senyk, assistant manager at Batu Karang Resort, the archipelago’s first luxury hotel. “By 2016, the only farms that remained were in the channel dividing Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan islands. By 2019, there were none left at all.”

Planted in the white sand, the seaweed creates a mosaic pattern in the water [Photo: courtesy Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

The end of seaweed farming was a symptom of Indonesia’s tourism boom, which saw visitor numbers rocket from seven million in 2010 to 16 million in 2019, according to Statistics Indonesia. Since Batu Karang opened in 2005, land values on the islands have increased up to 20 percent each year. Thousands of Chinese day-trippers and hundreds of Australian surfers visited every day, providing jobs that offered regular wages and far easier working conditions than aquaculture.

But with the global tourism industry paralysed by the coronavirus pandemic and 13 million tourism workers now unemployed in Indonesia, seaweed farming in the Penida Archipelago is back in vogue. “When COVID-19 hit, the locals reverted immediately back to it,” Senyk said.

Shrinking returns

Before the pandemic, Kasumba, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, was Batu Karang’s purchasing officer. Now she is one of an estimated one thousand islanders who spend their days knee-deep in seawater and busy planting, harvesting and hauling baskets of seaweed.

Farmers sell the seaweed to middlemen and get little return for their hours labouring in the sun. Many are waiting to return to their old jobs in tourism [Photo: courtesy Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

“My grandmother was a seaweed farmer, but I never did it before because I studied accounting in university,” Kasumba said. “It’s really hard work but I am lucky to do it. There are no other jobs here now. Without it, I might not have money to eat.”

Kasumba says she likes working outdoors and the communal aspect of the job, but she notes the returns are poor. “Between five of us we earn only $200 to $300 a month,” she said.

Her neighbour Kadek also says he earns much less farming seaweed than in his previous job as a reservation clerk at the Tamarind Resort Nusa Lembongan. “Before I made $200 a month and partied with my friends on weekends,” he said. “Now I have to work seven days a week just to earn $50 a month. I haven’t had a Bintang [beer] since March.”

Seaweed farmers often bring their family along [Photo: courtesy Ian Neubauer/Al Jazeera]

Ari, a shopkeeper who used to earn $5 in profit for every T-shirt sold to tourists, now earns only $33 a month tending to a small plot of seaweed. And her return keeps on shrinking. “Last month, they paid us 13,000 rupiahs (88 cents) for one kilogramme of dried seaweed. This month they are paying only 10,000 rupiahs (68 cents),” she said of the middlemen who resell the commodity to factories in China and Vietnam where it is refined into carrageenan, an additive used in the food industry for its thickening and stabilising properties.

When Ari asked why the price was going down, the middlemen attributed it “too much competition” between farmers in Penida and “exporting problems” associated with lockdowns.(continued...)

Author: Ian Lloyd Neubauer / Al Jazeera | Read the rest of the story by clicking the link here

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