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Small-scale seaweed farming in North East Brazil

Amedeo Freddi1 and José Aguilar-Manjarrez2

The poor living conditions of the coastal communities have been a constant matter of concern for the Brazilian governments during the last decades. These communities appear to be particularly isolated along the North east coast. In addition, the area has witnessed a strong migration of inland populations towards the coast, caused by the decline of the main crops (cotton, cacao and sugar cane) in the agriculture sector. These migrants brought about a dramatic increase of the number of artisanal fishers that resulted in an increased fishing effort that proved to be unsustainable for most of the stocks.

Since the eighties, the FAO has promoted in Brazil several projects in favour of small scale aquaculture development as a way of generating a significant growth of local production opportunities for coastal communities, at the same time privileging eco-friendly and sustainable practices and favouring the preservation of the natural resources. In the mid-eighties, the FAO executed a Regional Project AQUILA which started Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC) projects on coastal lagoon management, seaweed cultivation and molluscs farming. Together with another FAO executed project “Martim Pescador”, these two projects concurred to catalyze the impressive development of mussels farming in the state of Santa Catarina at the beginning of the nineties, resulting in a small scale industry which progressively reached a global production of 12 000 tons/year. In 1998, FAO proposed through a TCP project the idea of a Unilateral Trust Fund (UTF) project in support of aquaculture development which widely included small scale marine aquaculture programmes, shrimp farming in pens and small cages, support and diversification of mollusc farming and seaweed cultivation. Unfortunately, although parts of the ideas were included in the programmes of the production chains adopted by the federal administrations, the attention was mainly focussed on strengthening of the oceanic fishery and the project was not implemented.

In 2001, after the conclusion of the “Martim Pescador”project, the Brazilian government started an FAO Technical Cooperation Project (TCP/BRA/0065) for the development of seaweed cultivation this time for costal communities of three States of the North East Region, Cearà, Rio Grande del Norte and Paraiba. The counterpart institution was the Brazilian Cooperative Organization (OCB) in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture. The design of this project followed the criteria of previous FAO interventions addressing the development of poor coastal communities through the introduction of simple aquaculture practices within their immediate reach. This intervention in the northeast was justified by the presence in Paraiba of a seaweed processing industry (Agar Brasileiro Ltd.) which utilised seaweed collected from the natural banks principally by women of the coastal communities of the northeast region. Many of these banks were already overexploited and the introduction of seaweed farming represented a way of preserving and increasing this source of income for the local population and, at the same time protecting the natural seaweed banks. The scope of the project was to test farming techniques in pilot communities, verify the technical and financial feasibility of the packages, and at the same time promote the associative work among the producers, monitor the social impact of the introduction of this new techniques, and favour the establishment of an institutional framework for the future coordination/support of the development of this new production sector. The project also conducted a marketing analysis for seaweed derived products in Brazil and evaluate the potential for expansion in the three Northeast states involved.

The first phase of the TCP project concluded in June 2003 after showing the technical and financial feasibility of longline culture of Gracilaria sp, training fishers in farming practices and establishing some associations of producers, concluding a market analysis and the preparation of a marketing strategy for seaweed derived products and identifying new areas and communities in the three states for further expansion of this practice. The project showed that the technicalities of seaweed cultivation are easily and quickly learned by the members of the communities and that seaweed farming can be a very significant source of income in particular for the poorer segments of the coastal fishing population. The farmed product has been of excellent quality resulting in a five fold increase in the prices paid by the processing industries versus the dry seaweed collected from natural banks of from the beaches. However, the project also showed that special efforts had still to be addressed towards the organization and management of the new fisher associations, as a first step towards the eventual establishment of cooperatives. In addition, it showed the difficulty to organize the fishers to work in groups so to develop the necessary routine to keep the production constant during the year and then progressively increase it. After the first phase, a second and final phase was approved to conclude mainly the training activities and to discuss and prepare a UTF3project with the Brazilian government as a follow-up to continue the development initiated under the TCP.

The new UTF project is entitled “Coastal Communities Development (UTF/BRA/066/BRA)”. It is a five year project with a budget of $US 5 million that will start in April 2006. It has been conceived as a multi-state intervention for northeast Brazil, similar to the design of the initial TCP project whose objective, in fact, was to verify the feasibility of seaweed cultivation by developing pilot projects in the three states selected and then, on the basis of the results, expand eventually the activity to other areas and communities in the same states and to the other states of the North-East Region.

The main goal of the project would be to reduce poverty in coastal communities and to ensure a more sustainable utilization of marine resources through: (a) the introduction and expansion of economically viable and simple mariculture techniques, and (b) the involvement of the communities in co-management of the resources.

There are four immediate objectives in this new UTF project:

1. Consolidation of the Gracilaria seaweed culture in the communities involved in the TCP project in Ceará, Rio Grande del Norte and Paraiba and expansion of this type of farming to other communities in the same states and in other states participating in this project. This consolidation of Gracilaria farming would also involve the consolidation of marketing of Gracilaria derived products and the necessary research elements, as well as the eventual development of producers associations into cooperatives with particular attention to the insertion of women in production and organization activities.

2. Diversification of mariculture production by introduction of simple farming of other organisms in the area of the project. The purpose is to build up on the longline techniques introduced in the states and to use other simple techniques (i.e., bottom lines) to diversify production to enlarge the market prospects for the coastal communities. Important aspects like eventual seed production should also be considered in this mariculture diversification objective. Elements related to research, site identification and marketing analysis will be part of the objective.

3. Development of pilot projects on co-management of marine resources involving the coastal communities with experience in cooperative work and mariculture. The scope of this objective is to promote a more sustainable use of the costal natural resources and the permanent monitoring of their state of health while at the same time raising awareness and training communities on sustainable use of renewable resources and their conservation, promoting the creation of associations to allow a better organization of the work, promoting a better collaboration of the coastal population with the institutions in charge of monitoring, and preservation of the resource. Amongst communities involved in seaweed farming or other mariculture activities, the project will select three of them to establish three pilot projects on alternative economic activities based on new forms of employment such as eco-tourism, diving centers, learning fishing (“pesca-conosco”), or new sustainable forms of artisanal fishery.

4. Establishment and organization of inter-institutional committees, both at federal level and in each one of the participating States, in order to create a permanent inter-institutional framework, through mariculture development, to decrease poverty rates in coastal communities The creation of the inter-institutional set-up would optimise the integration of specific institutional competences and favour the sharing of experience throughout the Region and could be a model for future expansion of this approach throughout the country.

For more information please contact:

José Aguilar-Manjarrez at FIRI

1 Amedeo Freddi
FAO Consultant

2 José Aguilar-Manjarrez
Inland Water Resources and Aquaculture Service
FAO Fisheries Department, Rome

3 Technical assistance projects financed by the recipient countries themselves from their own national resources or from loans, credits and grants made by International Financing Institutions, are called Unilateral Trust Funds (UTF) at

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