Growth vs. Stagnation: Seaweed Farmers (Zanzibar)


Growth vs. Stagnation: Seaweed Farmers (Zanzibar)

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Growth vs. Stagnation: Seaweed Farmers in Zanzibar
Zanzibar. 2009. Giclée inkjet Prints.

Joanna Lipper traveled to Zanzibar in the summer of 2009 to photograph women in urban and rural settings. While in Zanzibar she visited Jambiani, a rural village on the east coast of Unguja, where some women work as seaweed farmers. Seaweed is prized for the chemicals it produces in the form of algae extracts and also for its remarkable ability to absorb tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide. Algae's valuable extracts are widely used in food (such as processed dairy, meat, and fruit products), in cosmetics (such as lipstick and mascara), in paint, toothpaste, air fresheners, pharmaceuticals and in agriculture. On a global level, the import and export of seaweed is a $200 billion business, with the United States importing nearly $50 billion worth each year. The national Seaweed Development Strategic Plan recently adopted by the Tanzanian government calls for the expansion of seaweed farming. It is a sustainable form of aquaculture that has particularly benefited women and contributes to the governments' poverty alleviation program. In Zanzibar, it has become a major source of income for women farmers. While increasing their workload, it also has increased their economic purchasing power as well as created more social empowerment of women. But since Zanzibar lacks the large-scale infrastructure and hardware needed to process seaweed and extract valuable algae, raw materials are shipped abroad for processing. Without microfinance loans, improved education, and community organization amongst laborers, there can be no further growth for seaweed farming as a cash-generating economically empowering occupation for rural village women.

In Lipper's photographs, there is something sublime about the way in which the two seaweed farmers looking outwards toward the horizon line across the vast expanses of ocean and sandbars at low tide seem so distant, so detached and so protected from the intrusive technology and architecture of modern life. There is something sacred about their proximity to nature and their graceful alternation between togetherness and solitude, moments of union, attunement, separation, individuation and reunion. Yet, despite the vast potential for women's empowerment, the thin thread that connects these seaweed farmers to the global economy is growing more fragile by the day.

About the Artist

Joanna Lipper is a filmmaker, photographer and author. More information about Lipper's book, photographs and films can be found at and

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