Income

Seaweed is a vital source of income and independence for women in Fiji. Climate change wins.

A group of women in Fiji spend long hours walking in the sea to gather an edible seaweed that for years has been a vital part of the island nation’s diet, culture and income. But now seaweed is becoming much harder to find, endangering the livelihoods of many.

Nama, also called sea grape, is a form of seaweed known for its pearl-like structures. According to Nama Fiji, a cosmetics company that uses sea plants, nama contains high concentrations of vitamins and minerals. It is part of the daily diet of Fijians and is usually served soaked in coconut milk, reports Reuters.

But rising global temperatures and increased frequency of storms have begun to impact the island’s supply of nama. Fisherwomen in Fiji told Reuters they now spend more time foraging for the seaweed and reap far fewer rewards.

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Reuters


“We are struggling,” said Sera Baleisasa. “…It takes two to three hours to fill a bag. Before, it took between an hour and an hour and a half.”

Karen Vusisa, 52, told Reuters she can now only collect about half the nama she once was and spends a lot more time looking for it. She used to be able to fill a 44-pound bag of potatoes with seaweed. Now she can only fill a 22-pound bag, a significant reduction in her income.

A local woman, Miliakere Digole, told Reuters she bought nama directly from fisherwomen before traveling for several hours to sell it at a market in Fiji’s capital. A 22-pound bag of fisherwomen costs about $9.13. When women were able to pull together larger bags that weighed around 55 pounds, they sold for around $18.25. On average, Digole now earns just over $40 in three to four days reselling a full 55-pound bag of nama. For a 22-pound bag, she earns just over $27.

Marine biologist Alani Tuivucilevu, who is also coordinator of the Women in Fisheries group, called the situation sad.

“That has been their way of life. So the depletion of the supply of nama means, in effect, the erosion of a way of life,” she told Reuters. “…It’s not just an erosion of certain species. It’s also an erosion of a certain culture. Not just Fijian culture, but Pacific culture in general.”

Tuivucilevu said more frequent tropical cyclones mean there is “less and less time for those nama supplies to replenish.”

And storms don’t just impact food and incomes. Tuivucilevu noted that when there is a cyclone, women are forced to stay at home, where many face domestic violence. In 2021, the Fiji Women’s Crisis Center reported over 6,800 cases of domestic violence. Earlier this year, the centre’s coordinator, Shamima Ali, told the Fiji Sun that around 64% of women in the country have experienced violence in their intimate relationships.

“It’s a long chain of effects,” Tuivucilevu told Reuters.

Baleisasa urged major countries to consider the world’s island nations when developing their plans to tackle the climate crisis. Last year, the sobering United Nations climate change report warned that the world’s island nations are “on the verge of extinction.

To avoid significant sea level rise and even more intense cyclones, in addition to other impacts of climate change, the report warns that the world must reach net zero emissions of carbon dioxide and reduce other greenhouse gases. greenhouse as soon as possible.

Tuivucilevu said while adaptation has always been a “driving theme” for Pacific nations, it cannot continue.

“We can’t keep adapting,” she said. “Major emitters need to recognize that the effects are not on them, that we bear the brunt. … Their actions, we bear the consequences.”