For the past 5 years, Willan Andrew and his family have depended on income generated from cultivating seamoss in the Grenville Bay, St Andrew. They operate their family business W Andrew and Associates Seamoss Enterprise.
Many rural parts of the country have become heavily dependent on agriculture and fishing to earn an honest living due to lack of other employment opportunities. Mariculture is a specialised branch of aquaculture where marine organisms for food and other products are cultivated in the open ocean.
This form of mariculture is unique to Grenville Bay, Soubise and Petite Bacaye thanks to the Seamoss Mariculture Project implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Integrated Climate Change Adaptation Strategies (ICCAS) project. The start of the project spawned the development of the La Baye Alternative Livelihood Organisation Inc, of which Andrew is the president. Its low start-up and operational costs make this type of farming quite lucrative.
In one harvest, a seamoss plot established in Grenville Bay has the potential to produce about 2,400 pounds of wet seamoss, which is approximately 120 pounds of dried seamoss, one pound of which can fetch up to $40.
In the Telescope community, there are 6 plots, and Andrew believes that residents within that community stand to benefit from this lucrative industry. “We want to organise plots for people within the community who are in the group as members so that everyone can have their own plots and then we the organisation, will be buying over the seamoss from them and draw, process it and send it out in the market,” said Andrew.
The La Baye Alternative Livelihood Organisation Inc focuses on making the seamoss product more readily available and easily consumed by the public. It has started exploring the production of seamoss gel which is expected to make life easier for consumers by eliminating the hassle of them having to produce the gel themselves by soaking and boiling. The organisation is also concentrating on product improving packaging and labelling.
Now that the La Baye organisation is focused on expanding plots in the area, there is a need for capital to construct a shed to house and dry large quantities of seamoss expected to be harvested. “We need a house where we can dry the seamoss in bulk and not have to worry about the rain, so that is our main aim right now. An investment like that will cost approximately US$40,000 to US$50,000. The drying house will also come with a storage room, so we are looking how to get some funding so that we can go forward,” Andrew said.
Andrew is assisted by Social Entrepreneur and CSME consultant, Dr Ashley John, who is attached to the Caribbean Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Livelihoods. He has years of experience in managing sustainable development programmes and projects. Working along with local implementing partner “Dynamic Youth of Grenada” he provided some guidance to the La Baye Alternative Livelihood Organisation Inc on improvements on their product offering and steps to realise expansion.
Dr John was impressed with this type of business model that is centred around a family unit and has also factored in the participation of the surrounding community. This was his second visit to Grenada to provide technical assistance to this project.
“One of the things we want to do is to organise his structure to make it very efficient and sustainable, train all of his personnel and the other members of the group that is interested and then we are also going to help him achieve his desire to have a drying house. So we are going to help him with [the] proposal writing and sourcing other forms of sponsorship,” said Dr John.
Adding value to the product is another essential aspect of expanding his business, in what Dr John described as a very lucrative market. “We are putting together an action plan and we are already looking at better packaging. We are looking at upscaling, we are also making plans to export the product in Canada and other places and throughout the Caribbean as well. We are looking at of course setting up the drying house because that is critical right now.”
He stated that the drying house will guarantee the quality of the finished product and ultimately lead to Andrew developing more plots to cultivate even more seamoss.
Harvesting seamoss can be rather time-consuming as some plots can take up to 3 hours to clean based on the size. After harvesting the seamoss is placed in special sheets of plastic on drying tables to bleach in the sun and is then dried. During this process, the seamoss must be continuously turned to ensure that it properly dries.
In the Caribbean, there are numerous species of marine algae (seaweed). The type focused on more is the Fan Moss (Gelidium spp) and the (Eucheuma spp) which is said to be more lucrative due to the gelatinous substance “agar” that can be extracted and used to produce a variety of products including the popular porridge-like drink, ice cream, rum punch or soft drinks. Seamoss possesses a number of health benefits, however many sellers of this product tout its apparent aphrodisiac properties to the local male population.