Farming the Future

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[dropcap]Indonesia[/dropcap] has over 17 thousand islands and is one of the largest seaweed producers in the world. On a small Indonesian island of Nusa Lembongan the majority of inhabitants are involved in the cultivation of seaweed. A key ingredient in medicines, cosmetics and foods among many other products, seaweed has become the financial backbone of this island just off southeastern coast of Bali.

Seaweed and algae’s rapid rate of photosynthesis, the process of turning carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy and oxygen, make it a prime candidate for absorbing carbon out of the environment. Some seaweeds can absorb five times more carbon dioxide than plants on land. Could seaweed help battle global warming?


Two farmers loading freshly collected seaweed into baskets. Seaweed is a commodity traded in the international market, though farmers face challenges like fluctuating market prices, lack of access to capital as well as natural conditions like tropical storms, predation by herbivorous fish or diseases. But it is still not as labour intensive as some land crops and another benefit adds to its value: it has a high oil content and can be converted to biodiesel.


When a boat with seaweed arrives, it is brought to the land in baskets and put to dry on the sand.


Loading freshly harvested seaweed into baskets. Used as gelling and viscosity agents in a wide range of foods, in bio- medical and agricultural applications and for beauty and healthcare products, world annual production of extracts is about 250,000 tonnes and growing.


After a month in the water, the seaweed is collected and put out to dry. Big areas covered with seaweed can be found in front of farmers’ houses.

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The seaweed is covered with sheets of foil.


Children also work collecting seaweed. The work schedule is dictated by the ebb and flow of the tide, often the seaweed has to be harvested at night.


Regardless the age, the inhabitants of the island seem to be all working in seaweed production.


Weaving baskets and preparing lines for the seaweed.


A woman moves her feet back and forth on the lines which are scrubbed in the sand and cleaned for reuse.


The sand clears away any debris left from the seaweed or accumulated from the month in the water.


After cleaning the old foil is taken off and new stripes are placed on the lines. Although the natural habitat of the seaweed is the reef environment, where they grow attached to hard substrates, it can also grow attached to lines underwater. This cultivation technique is used by the farmers in Nusa Lembongan.


The vast majority of the world’s seaweed is grown in Asia where seaweed farming has proven, in parts, to be a more lucrative and reliable source of income than fishing.


Helping hands to load and put baskets on the heads are coming.


Putting a loaded basket on the head is not easy, another person is there to help.

Agata Kowalska is a freelance documentary, culture and travel photographer based in Berlin, Germany. The main focus of her photographic work lies in capturing the human condition in its natural surroundings, tackling issues of environmental and social nature. Agata has been published in the Amnesty Journal and CNN among others. Her work can be viewed here: