Seaweed, Zanzibar and Global Trade

The Beeb’s doing well today, producing two more climate change articles this morning – one on the shrinking size of Appalachian salamanders as their mountain home warms and dries, and one on seaweed farming in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

I’m going to leave the salamanders out of the discussion – it’s an interesting story but I can’t see a prepping related angle to it, really. They are, unluckily for them, yet another piece of collateral damage in the march of climate change.

The Zanzibar seaweed farms, on the other hand, are a very useful starting point to consider the intricate global network we all depend on to varying extents – but most of us probably far more than we realise.

What possible relevance can it have to anyone in the UK that women in Zanzibar now face a drop in their incomes and independence due to a warming ocean reducing their ability to grow seaweed for commercial sale?

The BBC kindly put a little sidebar to the story. It just lists the main uses of seaweed, commercially. Toothpaste, lotions, cosmetics, medicine and food, it says.

I don’t know if Zanzibarian seaweed ends up in UK toothpaste or not, but probably toothpaste from somewhere equally distant does even if Zanzibar itself isn’t involved. I don’t use lotions and cosmetics, but plenty of people do. Medicine? I have no idea! Whenever I read the contents on a medical product they seem to contain a bewildering array of chemicals and substances that I have no knowledge about, seaweed could easily be in there under some trade-name or E-number code. Food – as far as I know, if I eat seaweed, I collect it myself off the seashore. But many people do eat seaweed, or products that contain seaweed derivatives. I certainly couldn’t say I’ve never eaten Zanzibarian seaweed in the past, hidden in something else.

I like to think of this global network of trade and interconnection as a big, highly-tensioned spider’s web. It’s intricate, far-reaching, and very dependent on everything running the way it’s supposed to. Zanzibarian seaweed farms are just one, tiny link in the network but, (to think of just a few other links I know are having trouble at the moment) when you add in Assam tea producers, Saudi wheat farmers (giving up production altogether in 2016 due to groundwater depletion), the recent (and ongoing) droughts in the USA hitting crop yields there….. how resilient is that web? How many snapped links canit cope with? Can it adapt fast enough?

What happens if it can’t?

Judging by the unexpected seaweed-links to products above, do we have any idea of the knock-on effects when any one link unravels? Some, of course, are obvious – if the harvest of maize in the USA fails, then maize prices will rise and there’ll be less maize available. Others may be so subtle that we don’t see the knock-on effects before they blind-side us.

All the more reason to push hard on the food-security front by homesteading and growing our own wherever possible!





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