University of Technology Sydney

The Seaweed Project: Transforming supply chains to empower coastal communities

Lead Organization

University of Technology Sydney

Ultimo, State of New South Wales, Australia

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Nang Marj is a hard working Filipina fisher. She and her family struggle to put food on the table on a daily basis. She battles against the effects of overfishing in her local area, the exploitative practices of companies buying her products, and an increasing vulnerability to climate-related disasters. 3.35 million artisanal reef fishers in the coastal communities of Southeast Asia suffer the same fate. The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have designed The Seaweed Project to disrupt the exploitative practices reinforcing the cycle of poverty in these coastal communities and destroying the local ecosystem. The Seaweed Project will expand on our proven, inclusive business models that incentivise communities and industry alike. Access to affordable technologies that will improve the quality of their products, and the opportunity to empower individuals, families and communities to work together, are essential in ensuring a sustainable future.

Problem Statement

Extracts from red seaweed, called carrageenans, are increasingly used for their gelling, thickening and stabilizing properties, with over 90% of the world’s production occurring in Southeast Asia. One million people living in households along the Philippine coast depend on seaweed farming and fishing for their livelihoods. However, they face a bleak future: poverty is increasing, food security is under threat, and their oceans are polluted and vulnerable to climate-related events such as typhoons. Moreover, exploitative seaweed supply chains marginalize these communities, depleting ocean biodiversity which drives poverty traps and unsustainable behavior. Seaweed farmers make little money from carrageenan because the people that they sell to control prices and markets, and there are no ethical value chains in place. There is also little access to low-cost technologies to add value to seaweed.However, seaweed farming can help save coastal communities and reduce ocean pollution. By enabling inclusive value chains and opening up new markets and value added propositions, coastal communities can capture higher value from the seaweed that they produce and break out of their poverty trap. Creating the right market structure incentivises conservation action and ensures that seaweed farming drives restoration of the environment on which these communities depend. Seaweed farming is the only viable option at scale for coastal communities that can be positive for the ocean. The inclusive supply chain has been successfully tested and piloted by Net-Works™, demonstrating it can restore socio-ecological resilience to the impacts of climate change for vulnerable coastal communities in the Philippines.

Solution Overview

The Seaweed Project will empower Filipino coastal communities through a scalable, locally-appropriate, inclusive seaweed business model, integrated with science and technology innovations, including:* Improvement of seaweed farming practices, both scientifically and ethically. The Seaweed Project will provide buyers with real-time data on the quality of goods they are purchasing, as well as providing the farmers information regarding the health of their stock. It will also provide a clearer, more ethical pathway throughout the production and manufacturing processes, allowing buyers to celebrate corporate responsibility.* Creation of Farmer Hubs, initially in the Philippines. The Seaweed Project will bring together approximately 10 villages per hub to sell refined products created from farmed seaweed, rather than low-grade dry seaweed. Products will be flexible, depending on the fluctuating needs of the market, opening up new market opportunities.* Disruption of the Seaweed Supply Chain, eliminating inefficiencies and inequalities, driving up product quality and aggregating farmers to give them stronger negotiating power. * Scale-up of new social, economical and environmental standards relating to the farming of seaweed across Southeast Asia that reduces environmental impact.* Linking seaweed farming to larger and more effective community-based marine protected areas (MPAs) that restore critical coastal habitats and support improved seaweed farming.The Seaweed Project will optimise the current practice of seaweed farming and implement new capabilities to reduce waste and incentivise environmentally sustainable practices. Through sustainable, ethical, and economic improvements, The Seaweed Project will transform the lives of coastal communities that are urgently seeking this change.

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