Tanzania: Flower Msuya – Fight tirelessly to promote seaweed cultivation, products

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As Tanzanians, we must cultivate a culture of recognition of the citizens among us who have contributed or are contributing immensely to our progress and to humanity in general.

One of those people is Flower Ezekiel Msuya (PhD), a Tanzanian scientist who for more than 20 years has been fighting to promote the cultivation of algae and its related products.

She is a marine biologist and works as a researcher at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM). Over the years, she has fought for algae cultivation to thrive in Tanzania so that the country can claim its place in the world market for quality seaweed products.

Born in Kifula, in the Ugweno Division of Mwanga District in the Kilimanjaro region in 1959, Dr Flower is an expert in algae cultivation, integrated aquaculture and world-class innovation.

She holds a PhD in Algae in Integrated Aquaculture from Tel Aviv University, Israel, a Masters in Fisheries and Aquaculture from Kuopio University in Finland, and a BA in Botany and Statistics from University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

From 1993 to 1996, she conducted research on the socio-economic and environmental impact of seaweed cultivation – the first such study, and from 1995 to 1996, she pioneered the initiation of algae cultivation in southern Tanzania.

In recent years, it has engaged in research and training on algae cultivation technologies and added value and has integrated algae into farm animals such as sea cucumbers to combat the effects of seaweed. climate change.

She carried out several seaweed / aquaculture advisory missions with FAO (Tanzania and Kenya), WIEGO, UNIDO, WWF and started seaweed cultivation in Mauritius, Rodrigues and Mayotte.

Dr Msuya is the founder and chairman of the Zanzibar Seaweed Cluster Initiative (ZaSCI).

Her work has particularly helped marginalized women in Tanzania to increase their income through the production of value-added seaweed products.

She trained government officials, researchers, entrepreneurs and algae growers on innovative agriculture (development of technologies to cultivate higher value algae but affected by the environment) and the manufacture of products based on algae in many parts of Tanzania.

His interests include the impact of climate change (on seaweed / aquaculture), resilience linking communities to coastal resource management, and community-based research to address the challenges faced by seaweed / aquaculture farmers. She has published over 40 articles on algae.

Seaweed or “Mwani” in the Kiswahili language has been one of the main exports of the island since the early 1990s, but the trend is downward due to the climate, the change, in particular the rise in temperature. seawater that affects algae farms and a kind of bacteria that restricts its growth.

These are some of the challenges Dr Flower sets to make algae good for the economy again.

The island is historically the third largest exporter of seaweed in the world, after the Philippines and Indonesia, with the main markets being Denmark, the United States, France, China, Korea, Vietnam and the Spain.

When she started encouraging more men and women in Tanzania to engage in seaweed cultivation, no one took her seriously.

What is encouraging is that by now individuals, local and international institutions and governments have started to recognize his long-standing efforts.

Seaweed farms are made up of small sticks arranged in neat rows in warm, shallow water, with ropes tied between the sticks and the seaweed seedlings placed in between.

The plant can be used to make cosmetics, lotions, toothpaste, medicine, and eaten as a vegetable.

Fall in love with algae plants

She explains that when she was undergraduate, she took a course in the study of algae phycology and that was the beginning of her interest in algae plants.

“Looking at the plants grown in the sea as opposed to the plants I grew in my mother’s garden in Ugweno, Kilimanjaro, I wanted to know more about these plants,” she said.

But the road has not been easy. It involved working more hours, teaching, mentoring, inspiring, researching and involving men and women who did not believe that seaweed cultivation and its related products could change and improve things. lives.

When she introduced the idea of ​​using algae to make products, no one understood her. But today, the initiative under ZaSCI has 15 villages where seaweed farmers and non-farmers make seaweed products and actually eat seaweed at home. There are also a number of people all over Tanzania who use algae in their homes.

“It inspires me to know that I have changed people’s minds and cultures in a positive way,” she says. When she started promoting the Seaweed Cluster Initiative, few in government wanted to listen to her or help her get it started. Today, she sees a lot of interest in the government to promote the added value of seaweed.

The government of Zanzibar, for example, is in the process of developing small processing factories with the aim of creating a large factory in the future.

“I am very proud to have made this possible in my country,” she notes.

She remembers vividly how she was laughed at when she first told seaweed growers (in a cooperative she started with) that they could make seaweed soap. and also eat seaweed.

“I remember a man in a village who looked at me and asked me ‘Ma’am, why should I eat seaweed, don’t I have anything to eat?” I wish I could meet him today’ hui, because, I’m sure he’s eating seaweed now, “she recalls.

Since 2005, she has been researching innovative technologies that can be used to produce higher value algae and add value to lower value algae.

“The most promising agricultural technology so far has been the tubular nets that my colleagues and I pilot in two villages,” she notes, adding that her work at ZaSCI continues to explore further. other agricultural technologies.

She is continually inspired by her teacher and mentor, Professor Keto Mshigeni, who has consistently worked to develop algae aquaculture in Tanzania.

Challenges as a female scientist

She says the challenge she faced just because she is female came mostly because she was from the mainland and wanted to work in the development of seaweed aquaculture in Zanzibar.

“Believe me, at first it was not easy, but over time I got used to it and the people of Zanzibar too,” she says, further explaining that a woman from another culture told a man from Zanzibar to practice aquaculture of other kinds (instead of continuing to be a fisherman) or using seaweed is not easy.

She explains how the women managed to convince their husbands and their communities in general to let them out of the house to cultivate seaweed since Arab culture was a big step forward.

She is a member of several professional associations, such as Tropical Agriculture Association (TAA), Royal Society of Biology (RSB), World Aquaculture Society (WAS), International Seaweed Association (ISA), Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) and Forum Pan-African Competitiveness (PACF).

She is also one of five international trainers in innovation and clustering, where she has trained over 100 small and large scale entrepreneurs in Tanzania and a similar number in West Africa.

Since 2017, Dr Flower has partnered with colleagues from Scotland, the Philippines and Malaysia to tackle the challenges facing algae aquaculture.

They are implementing the GlobalSeaweedSTAR project – protecting the future of algal aquaculture – where they research solutions to the impacts of climate change, including algal diseases, genetics, biosecurity and socio-economic issues. that hamper the development of seaweed aquaculture in Tanzania, the Philippines and Malaysia.

The project is led by the Scottish Association for Marine Sciences (SAMS) and funded by the UK Research and Innovation Fund-Global Challenges Research Fund.

Advice to women

His advice to women is that they can.

“They should ‘dare’ and go ahead with a go-go-go attitude and not listen to people who want to cut them down … seaweed cultivation and adding value is a very rewarding activity, and women should take a leading position and reap the rewards, ”she said.

Dreams

Her dream is to be a key leader in bringing Tanzanian women to become masters of the production and sale of innovative seaweed products in East Africa, Africa and the world.

“I think it is achievable because we have a unique product in Africa, the red algae, of which we are the third largest producer in the world,” she underlines.

She is happy that the government (of Zanzibar) has declared seaweed as the target crop in the country’s value-added sector, and will work with ZaSCI to ensure that the added-value is extended and the country has of several algae processing plants. for semi-refined carrageenan, the gel that determines the quality of the red algae grown on the island.

Algae Day, July 23 of each year, has been recognized by the government of Zanzibar as ZaSCI Algae Day.

ZaSCI Seaweed Day guests of honor have so far been the President of Zanzibar or the 2nd Vice-President of Zanzibar.

The young girls have a lot to learn from Flower who has struggled for over 20 years in seaweed aquaculture and adding value, and who has constantly worked with farmers on a voluntary basis.


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