- After three decades of seaweed farming in India, women in the farming front have emerged as a major force to reckon with.
- The dialogues have brought out the quest for cognitive, affective and psychomotor skills in women which provide ample opportunities for honing and harnessing of the same.
- Though women have contributed immeasurably on the production sector, there exists a void in the research and development efforts, post-harvest technologies and value addition wherein a lot lies untapped.
- The avenues and hidden opportunities in the sea weed value chain, such as production of sap (seaweed bio stimulant) and the enormous potential for transforming the seaweed farming in to a coastal rural enterprise warrant immediate policy attention.
- The morale of women seaweed farmers could be boosted through creation of remunerative price structure, strengthening of domestic markets and boosting production to export levels.
- Empowering women through imbibing of Information and communication Technology (ICT) skills is the need of the hour leading to all round and integrated development.
- Seaweed farmers both men and women had fairly equal access to resources such as water space for cultivation as farming was primarily a family-based enterprise. However, poor quality of planting material makes it take longer for seeding of ropes which is done mainly by women, leading to ergonomic stress.
- Women in families wherein men folk participated in fishing, apart from sea weed farming, earned only a quarter of what the men earned and had no control over the income of their husbands. Women spent income earned providing quality education for their children and on household nutrition. They also invested in building of houses, purchase of jewelry and saving.
- In order to ensure equitable distribution of economic benefits by way of subsidies, the money was deposited by the State Fisheries Department in the joint account of both men and women in families. Ever since the Tsunami in 2004, the Government of India has undertaken serious measures to ensure that, the benefits of welfare Programmes reaches the women of the household. Eg. Ration cards are issued in women’s name and this has been implemented in accordance with the National Food security’s act, 2013.
- Women seaweed farmers opined that prices were very low (INR 45/Kg i.e. 0.61 USD for 1 kg of dry seaweed and INR 5/Kg i.e. 0.07 USD for 1 kg wet seaweed). A private firm held monopoly through a buy-back arrangement with the farmers. Problems included low production due to adverse conditions like high sea surface temperature, poor quality of seeds and intense grazing by fishes leading to economic losses, further compounded by COVID 19 pandemic.
- Bio stimulant sourced from raw seaweeds hold a great promise if production technology, production inputs like extraction machines, market access and adequate training are made available. The product fetches a premium price of INR 85/liter (1.16 USD), is also an import substitute as the country is at present importing 25-30 million USD worth bio stimulants annually. The women reiterated the need to diversify their production in to value added products and said that they were only too eager to produce both dry seaweed as well as the sap.
Women argued for more infrastructural facilities, for eg. In Maangadu and Sambai villages for better roads as they had to walk for 3 hours to reach the farming site enduring hardships. The long walk through desolate and remote areas poses a security threat for women unless, they travel in groups or escorted by male family members. In rains reaching their farm sites was impossible. During COVID, women heading households and widows found it difficult to commute to farm sites. Single women did not want to ride with strangers on bikes due to societal and cultural restrictions and norms, like their married counterparts did.
- An overwhelming majority (68.42%) of men seaweed farmers had access to smart phones as against only 16.09% of women. The dialogues under the project created a motivating stimulus for women to participate in the capacity building programmes for use of ICT (Information Communication Technology) tools and prepare the women for a learning ground on the use of smart phones for taking photos, short videos, and use of photo voice to communicate to the project team members. The dialogues which resulted following the capacity building saw stronger, confident, brave women speaking for the needs related to seaweed farming and livelihood.
- Prior to capacity building programme only the women leaders ventured to speak on behalf of their respective groups, but as the dialogues progressed, and after the women were trained in ICT, every woman felt that she was important and her views were valuable and she had every right to be heard, loud and clear. Dialogues were thus catalysts for ushering in a social change among women seaweed farmers in the community. Repeated meetings in small groups in different farming locations provided a forum for women to voice their opinions and perceptions and thus promoted her self-esteem and restored her dignity and worth.
- Dialogues were perceived as powerful tools of communication. Face to face dialogues initiated among small groups, soon after the lockdownrestrictions were relaxed, were instrumental in bringing out shy and introvert women to come to the forefront shed their inhibitions and feel free to talk fearlessly. This apparently set the stage for enhanced participation in virtual dialogues and validation workshops which followed thereafter.
- Every woman felt she was regarded as important in the dialogue process and felt that she had a right to be heard and her struggles would not be in vain and were confident that their concerns would receive a call, by the government in particular and other stakeholders in general. The virtual dialogues witnessed an outpouring of women’s ecstasy, determination, mixed emotions of anger and happiness (anger due to their struggles cited above and happiness since they have proved themselves as successful warriors in building their livelihoods and were in the forefront of seaweed farming in the country.
- The validation workshop was held in a face to face dialogue mode, wherein 40 stakeholders comprising of women and men seaweed farmers, seaweed collectors, government officials, researchers, NGOs, industries, officials representing the blue economy were called forth at a common platform. The issues raised by women were put across as discussion points and the concerned stakeholder group were called to address the same. Accordingly, low yield, poor quality of planting material, low prices, inclement climate, and lack of proper infrastructure, and weather, lack of training and infrastructure and markets for value added products such as sap were listed as the foremost problems flagging immediate attention.
- Creation of seed banks manned by farmers, import of new genetic material, collaborative research efforts in the offing by Madurai Kamaraj University (MDU) and ICAR-CMFRI, need for new Mariculture policy demarcating deeper waters for farming (in view of high sea surface temperature), government oriented funds being deposited in joint account of husband and wives in families practicing sea weed farming were some of the radical measures undertaken by the different sectors of the seaweed economy.
The dialogues were able to create a small but significant change as within weeks after the dialogues concluded, the price of dried seaweed was hiked form Rs.43/Kg (0.61 USD) to Rs.50/Kg (0.68 USD). Infrastructural works like laying of roads tread by women farmers en route the farm sites has been taken up by the municipal and civic authorities. The concept of establishing seed banks in each of the seaweed farming villages have been taken on a serious note for implementation. Collaborative Research involving CMFRI, MDU and Aqua-Agri for the development of seaweed planting material with increased genetic vigour has been taken up