The Toliara region in southwest Madagascar is one of the poorest regions in the world. In Ifaty, a small fishing village in the Bay of Ranobe, the locals also suffer from the consequences of declining fish stocks. Due to unsustainable fishing methods in the region, the livelihood of over 300 fishermen in the village is threatened. For instance, after a long working day, a fisherman today brings home only 14% of the catch that was common 50 years ago. However, this is often not enough to feed the family, let alone sell surplus fish on the local market.
This led to our idea of using the products of the local sea in an innovative and sustainable way. Our project ex aqua pursues the concept of empowering people to help themselves. In close cooperation with the local population, we are developing an ocean farming concept for cultivating sponges and edible algae. This will address two problems of the people in Ifaty: a lack of income and the scarcity of nutritious food.
For cultivation in our ocean farms, we chose an algae species called Caulerpa lentillifera, also known as sea caviar for its appearance and taste. It is one of the most nutritious edible algae species. It grows naturally in the bay and has high potential to improve the diet of the villagers.
Additionally, by selling the sponges as bathing utensils, the fishermen generate a complementary source of income. After farming, the sea sponges can easily be processed into lucrative bath sponges and sold to tourists in local hotels. A successful farmer will be able to earn up to 90$ per month, tripling his current income.
At the moment, three of our team members from Germany are working on site in Ifaty with our employee Celestine to set up a nursery farm. Celestine is a fisherman from the village and has been working with us for the past year taking care of our prototypes and maintaining the new nursery farm. He is happy to have found a job that provides him with a stable income, since earnings from fishing have decreased and can fluctuate. Having grown up by the sea, navigating on the open water is a piece of cake for him, and enables him to effortlessly find new species of sponges and remember their locations. Finding the perfect type of sponge is crucial for the success of our project. Some types are too soft and thus fall apart easily while others have tiny spikes which make them unsuitable for bathing. Thus, our nursery farm is home to five different species of all shapes and colours. Celestine will monitor their growth and remove bad ones which grow too slowly or are infected by parasites. Like this, our farm will soon accommodate a large stock of healthy sponges. Making use of their exponential growth, we expect to be selling the first sponges in two to three years. The number of sponges on the farm will by then be large enough for harvesting while still maintaining a basic stock of around 500 specimens in the nursery farm. Per processed sponge, Celestine will earn approximately 10$, one third of the average monthly income in the country.
Behind the project in Madagascar are twelve motivated students from Aachen who all study in different fields but found their mutual love in working for a good cause in their spare time. Three of the team members, Lilia, Madlen and Timon, are currently spending two months working for the project on site in Ifaty. After their work on the farm they get to know the community and spend the evenings enjoying a beer and local street food at their favourite kiosk in the village.
If you are also curious about the future development of our ocean farms, make sure to follow us on social media and sign up to our our news updates!
News updates: http://eepurl.com/gxo4nD
COPYRIGHT ALL PICTURES BY ex aqua.