Our research interests

The main consumer of products derived from farmed seaweed is the global processed food and health industries. A key aim of our expedition is to render visible the relationships between globalized commodities, national and international sustainable development and ‘climate smart agriculture’ agendas, the lives and livelihoods of Indonesian seaweed farmers, and international efforts to protect the Coral Triangle.

But why seaweed? why here? why now?

Background:

The Coral Triangle and food security In October 2011, six national governments of the region created formed an international multilateral partnership called the Coral Triangle Initiative . Their focus is on ‘coral reefs, fisheries and food security’, recognizing that it is impossible to protect the coral and the aquatic life that relies upon it without addressing the impact of humans whose local livelihoods also rely upon the sea, and whose health depends on it.

Climate and food security When climatic events such as the El Nino southern oscillation causes agriculture to fail in areas like Sulawesi, the sea ‘must provide’. This places extra pressures on sensitive marine environments. To make matters worse, the FAO estimates that developing countries will need to increase agricultural production by 70% by 2050 just to meet growing demands for food.

Being ‘climate smart’ In a global context, the UN regards seaweed farming as a new exemplar of climate smart agriculture: noting its values for food and alternative livelihoods, reducing fisheries pressures and carbon sequestration. An FAO report notes seaweed farms have a small ‘carbon footprint’; there is rapid turnover for farmers – a crop can be produced in just three months; sequestration per hectare far exceeds that of land based agriculture; seaweed ‘scrubs’ or cleans the water; and the Indonesian government a policy innovator in climate smart agriculture.

Seaweed The seaweed farmed in the regions we are visiting is exported and eventually used in everyday products around the world. The product ‘carrageenan’ is extracted from the seaweed and, amongst other uses, is employed in processed foods and fat-reduced products, in toothpaste, as an active ingredient in HIV/AIDs prevention technologies (the first female controlled microbicide), as an anti-viral agent and to encapsulate important drugs (for example for novel diabetes drugs). In many of the newer applications health is a driver of use.

Our approach:

An ecological approach An Ecological Public Health Approach (EPHA) has been proposed as a means to address the immensity of current challenges facing public health (Lang 2012). A core component of an EPHA involves acknowledging major transitions (eg nutritional, cultural, demographic, energy) and understanding the interconnections between people and environments that now are ‘too easily separated’. EPHA proponents stress long-developing interactions of ecological/human systems, interdisciplinary knowledge and multi-sectoral complex solutions. Hugging the coast provides an opportunity to explore and expand the significance of EPHA and translational research at the margins, in a liminal space between east and west, and global north and south.

A geographic approach In many countries where seaweed is farmed, it is women who do the bulk of the work. Women frequently rely upon and are beneficiaries of the sensitive, liminal space between land and sea. Seaweed farming also generates a liminal space between east and west, and global south and north – between the local coastal seaweed farming and global consumption of seaweed-derived products.

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