December 15, 2021


Secondary data on the role of women and men in seaweed farming in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat states of India have been collected. The following have been reviewed: the existing literature on seaweed farmers (15 research papers), the industries involved in buying the seaweeds from farmers, the NGOs associated with the farmers and also the numerous schemes involving seaweed farmers implemented by the National Fisheries Development Board, Hyderabad, India. Based on field visits undertaken during February 2019 at Ramanathapuram district, Tamil Nadu, different stakeholder groups who could be effectively involved in the ensuing dialogues under the Project were identified.

Seaweed farming is practiced in the districts of Ramanathapuram, Pudukottai, Thanjavur and Tuticorin in the State of Tamil Nadu, South India. The annual production of farmed seaweed from the state is 4,000 t. The species largely cultivated are Kaphaphycusalverizi and Gracilariaedulis. A pilot survey among seaweed growers of Tamil Nadu revealed that there are 600 families in Ramanathapuram district and 400 families in Tuticorin and Pudukottai district engaged in seaweed cultivation using rafts. These rafts are owned by individuals, by groups as well as by families.
A survey was undertaken during February-March 2019 among the seaweed growers of Ramanathapuram district, Tamil Nadu, India. The study was initiated among 650 seaweed farmers comprising both men and women engaged in the sector. Seaweed farming was observed in the locations of Munaicadu, Thangachimadam, Akkalmadam, and Rameswaram. Seaweed farming, being a family oriented enterprise, has the involvement of both men and women in various stages of the farming process. A raft is managed by 1 male member and 2 female members of the family. It could be observed during the course of the study that a single family could be in possession of as many as 25-45 rafts. Women in seaweed farming belong to the age group of 30-50 years. At present there are 5,000 rafts under seaweed culture in this district. The seaweed rafts are anchored at a depth of 1-1/2 meters in the water and at a distance of 500 meters-1 km from the shore, making it easily maneuverable for the women folk who are actively involved in seeding of ropes, maintenance of the rafts as well as harvesting and drying of the raw material. Menfolk are involved in the fabrication of rafts, installation of rafts at sea, maintenance of rafts as well as in harvesting of the produce.

Seaweed rafts are square shaped and 12x 12 feet in size. A single raft harbours around 20 ropes and an average raft yields 300 Kg on harvest. The economic holding period is 45 days. Three such harvests are taken in a year. Out of 300 kg of harvested material, 230 kg is sold either as dry/fresh to processing companies such as Aqua Agri, Aqua Foundation of India and SNAP and 70 kg is retained as seeding material. On an average, a woman laborer in seaweed farming earns Rs. 200 for 4 hours of labour/day, an average monthly income of Rs. 6,000 and a yearly income of Rs. 42,000/year, i.e. $591. Both men and women command equal wages for the same hours of work. As a family owned enterprise, the earnings from seaweed farming are as high as Rs. 21,300/month, i.e. $300.

An attempt was made to find out the extent to which seaweed farming contributed to/supplemented the main income from the main occupation of fishers (single day motorized gillnet fishing) in the regions where farming was predominant. Among the 650 seaweed farmers studied, the additional person days generated was 180, and the annual income generated from seaweed farming as a diversified livelihood option was Rs. 140,000 ($1,971) registering a 93 per cent increase over and above the income from marine fishing. (CMFRI, 2019, Field Survey results, Unpublished).


The following is an analysis of the information sourced as part of the desk study. The discussion centres around the potential or actual benefits of introducing seaweed farming.

Human-seaweed interactions can be traced to the Neolithic period (Dillehay et al., 2008; Ainis et al., 2014; Erlandson et al., 2015). The earliest records of the use of seaweeds for human consumption date back to China, 1,700 years ago (Yang et al, 2017). Seaweeds have been exploited for medicinal purposes for the treatment of goiter and for difficult child birth (Levine, 2016). Later, the focus was shifted from exploitation of seaweeds for industrial purposes such as manufacture of chemical fertilizers to extraction of hydrocolloids (Synytsya et al., 2015). At present, the countries which rank foremost in the farming of seaweeds are China, Indonesia and Philippines which also farm the greatest diversity in seaweed species. (FAO, 2014, 2016).

In India, natural seaweed resources are found in abundance along the TamilNadu and Gujarat coasts and around Lakshadweep, and Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Tandel, et al, 2016). Seaweed cultivation has been identified as a major livelihood focused intervention in the Southern State of Tamil Nadu, India. In India, they form the major raw materials for the production of agar, alginates, and for production of liquid seaweed fertilizer. In all, the Southern States of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and the western state of Gujarat has 20 agar factories and 10 Alginate factories (Tandel, et al, 2016). Mantri et al (2019) reported that there are more than 1,000 fishermen along the coast of Tamil Nadu involved in seaweed cultivation, producing over 2,000 tons of seaweed. The entire farmed biomass today in India has emanated from a small piece of K. alvarezii (then known as K. striatum), of Philippines origin, acquired from Japan by CSIR-CSMCRI in 1984.

Though India has only a 10 per cent share in global seaweed diversity, and 0.01 per cent in farming output, the country occupies strategic importance for its potential areas in seaweed farming such as the Union Territories of Andaman and Lakshadweep which form 20 per cent of its coast line (Mantri et al, 2019). Narayanakumar and Krishnan (2011) reported that large scale involvement of fisher folk in seaweed farming gathered momentum when they were organized into Self Help Groups (SHGs) by corporate bodies like Pepsico India Ltd., backed up by Institutional and financial support in Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu in 2000. Later, the foundation of seaweed farming in Ramanathapuram led to the expansion of the cultivation in the adjoining districts of Tuticorin, Pudukottai and Thanjavur (Krishnan and Kumar, 2009). The SHGs consisted mostly of women members, though some groups had a mixed proportion of both women and men members. The government agencies involved in this venture were the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Ramanathapuram Rural Development Agency (RDDA) and Tamil Nadu Department of Fisheries (Narayanakumar and Krishnan, 2011). Further, this study indicated that the district has an employment potential of 765,000 person days with current development projections promoting 5,000 families in the years to come.

The study by Vipinkumar et al (2013) reported that seaweed cultivation using the species Kappaphycus alvarezii had proved to be a promising venture for the women Self Help Groups of Ramanathapuram district. Of the 1,200 fisher families involved in this group venture, 60 percent were women beneficiaries. Vipinkumar et al (2017) studied the gender perspective in seaweed farming as well as the participation profile of fishermen and women in the enterprise. According to him, seeding, drying, packing, account and recordkeeping activities were being performed by both women and men. An assessment of gender needs revealed that the most important need expressed by both male and female counterparts included fabrication of floating rafts, seeding, raft maintenance and harvesting. Other needs considered important were drying, packing, institutional and non-institutional credit, account and record keeping. The decision making of the activities like seeding, drying and packing were equally shared by men and women. Overall, the study reported that the majority of activities in seaweed culture were carried out by men.

Johnson and Gopakumar (2011) studied the Self Help Group (SHG) model in K. alvarezii cultivation in Tamil Nadu, India. They have found that an average fisher family earned around INR 12,000/month, i.e., $169. They further observed the avocation to be a family-oriented enterprise. The findings of the field survey of the seaweed cultivators of Ramanathapuram district showed that the majority of seaweed farmers earned around INR 50,000 to 100,000/- annually, i.e., $704-1408. However, the majority of seaweed collectors in the wild were women.

Many SHG’s of women engaged in seaweed cultivation and collection in Ramanathapuram district were formed by the corporate houses such as PepsiCo and AquAgri (Narayanakumar and Krishnan, 2011). Seth (2016) suggested that seaweed farming provided an ancillary source of income generation for the fisherwomen, who had limited or no livelihood opportunities in their local area.

The potential role of fisherwomen in seaweed farming was examined by the Centre for Ocean Research, Sathyabhama Institute of Science and Technology, Tamil Nadu, India. They conducted rigorous entrepreneurship training for fisherwomen Self-Help Groups formed at Muttom fishing harbor, Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu. They observed that, on an average per capita, a woman generates INR 8,000 ($112) by selling fresh seaweed. Perisamy et al (2013) observed that a SHG of five members required working capital and total investment of Rs 225,000 ($4,091). Best practices to get good income were implemented in 2010 in three districts, namely Ramanathapuram, Pudukottai and Tuticorin. The average approximate income Increased from INR 35,000 ($636) to more than 50,000 ($909) per SHG per month. The farming of K. alvarezii by using best practices had brought tremendous social impact to coastal fisher women.

Meenakshisundaram et al. (2019) investigated the average annual income of seaweed harvesters on the one hand and seaweed cultivators on the other in Tamil Nadu State, India. They reported that the average annual earnings from harvest of seaweed resources from the wild was $1,000, whereas the cultivation yielded $300 per month ($3,600) and more than 1,500 families in the State of Tamil Nadu were engaged in seaweed farming as an alternate source of livelihood.

Seaweed cultivation has emerged as a viable option for the economic improvement of low income coastal communities in India (Krishnan and Narayanakumar, 2010; Periasami et al., 2014; Periasami et al., 2015; Mantri et al., 2017).

Meenakshisundaram et al. (2019) in their study observed that, Kappaphycus alvarezii commercial cultivation was initiated in 2001 along the southeast coast of Tamil Nadu by Pepsico India Holdings (P) Ltd., Gurgaon, India after licensing cultivation technology from CSIR-CSMCRI, Bhavnagar. The company successfully adopted a contract farming model with buy-back arrangements for seaweed produced by the women’s SHGs. Infrastructure was provided to the SHGs through national bank subsidies. Rajasree and Gayathri (2014) reported that women provided 50 per cent of the person power in seaweed mariculture in Muttom fishing village of Kanya Kumari district of Tamil Nadu. They further observed that the acceptance of this farming practice by the fishermen’s widows of Muttom is indicative of the fact that a low cost simple technology which can provide substantial returns would find better adoption among the coastal fisher folk.

Mohammed (2015) suggested that seaweed farming was based primarily on the culture of Kappaphycus species which had grown significantly in the Philippines and Indonesia over the last two decades, with growth also taking place at a smaller scale in India and a few other developing countries. With the establishment of many agar and algin extracting industries in different places in the maritime states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka and Gujarat, at the time the seaweed industry was poised towards establishing itself well in India.

Krishnan and Narayanakumar (2013) studied the social and economic dimensions of carrageenan seaweed farming in India. Their investigations revealed that seaweed farming had enabled households to raise their economic status significantly, with members of SHG families contributing substantially to total household income. In the last five years, the surveyed households had been able to acquire electronic appliances such as TVs, DVD players and mobile phones in addition to household appliances such as mixers and grinders. They further observed that the Income from seaweed farming had helped most respondents improve their clothing and enabled many of them to engage more frequently in social functions such as social and religious travelling. Income from seaweed cultivation had helped almost half of the respondents in Rameshwaram to conduct marriage celebrations in the family. Income from seaweed farming had also helped most respondents purchase household assets such as livestock and consumer durables. Most respondents have used seaweed farming income for home purchases or renovation of houses. About 4 percent of respondents in Rameshwaram have been able to purchase agricultural land with their income from seaweed farming.

Despite these studies on the potential benefits of seaweed farming and collection to women, men and their households, little has done on seaweed farming as a platform on which gender relations in the farming and collecting households perform, and people interact with the other local and more distant parties in the seaweed value chain. The gender dialogues intend to create a means for allowing women and men to engage with private sector interests, policymakers, NGOs and researchers on questions of gender and policy in the likely face of seaweed faming further developing in Tamil Nadu. How do the participants see the development of markets, environment conditions (for farming and collecting), and the role of local institutions, including SHGs? How do the benefits affect women’s social and economic advancement and what issues do women and men face as seaweed farmers and collectors?