Seaweed farmer sits in a boat full of seaweed (Madagascar)

Madagascar Cultivation of red seaweed: sustainable business model for overfished waters off Madagascar

Sub-Saharan Africa
Environment & Climate Education & Training

The fish and seafood in the nets of fishermen of the west coast of Madagascar are shrinking in number and size. For fishing company Copefrito and the population of the coastal villages, declining fishing quotas also mean correspondingly lower profits and incomes. Consequently, Copefrito/its then subsidiary Ocean Farmers and DEG – Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH worked as part of the develoPPP programme, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Econom­­­ic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), to promote the sustainable cultivation of red seaweed. Ocean Farmers, now independent, exports the dried red seaweed – also known as Cottonii – worldwide as a valuable texturing agent in the production of food and cosmetics. This in turn provides the local population with an alternative source of income and livelihoods.

Fishing and fish exports have so far served as the main source of income for fishermen and Copefrito/Ocean Farmers. They thus have a common interest in establishing a business model that offers economic potential while at the same time conserving fish stocks and helping to preserve biodiversity.

However, seaweed cultivation also carries risks. If it becomes too extensive, pests such as epiphytes can spread and destroy entire cultivation areas within a few weeks. In addition, unchecked cultivation of red seaweed poses a threat to the maritime ecosystem, especially the coral reefs off the coast of Madagascar.

It is in the economic interests of Ocean Farmers and the local population to boost the resilience of red seaweed cultivation. This requires that the local population be aware of the risks to the maritime ecosystem and red seaweed farming, know how to protect both, and employ sustainable cultivation methods. In addition, protected areas and improved seeds can enhance the resilience of red seaweed cultivation.

In order to sustainably improve cultivation methods for red seaweed in the region around the Malagasy city of Tuléar, the project partners implemented the following measures between 2018 and 2021 with a project volume of over 450,000 euros:

  • Training in sustainable farming practices for local seaweed farmers.
  • Environmental awareness training for the local population on topics such as sustainable waste management and plastic waste in the ocean.
  • Development of maps for five seaweed growing regions, including rules for the use of marine areas and a maintenance plan for red seaweed aquacultures. The maps also designate protected areas and boat lanes. They are coordinated with the local population and implemented by the local authorities.
  • Research into the robustness of native species of red seaweed at 24 stations with 478 plants.

Ocean Farmers delivered the training and awareness campaigns in cooperation with several local non-governmental organisations, including Blue Ventures, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Ocean Farmers will adopt the standards developed as part of the project for future growing areas and contract farmers once the project has finished.

A respectful use of the natural resources of the sea and economic success are not contradictory. With the support of the develoPPP project, we were able to develop the cultivation of red seaweed into an economically successful and at the same time sustainable model together with the local population.
Fred Pascal, Co-founder and CEO, Ocean Farmers
People in a classroom listen to a lecture (Madagascar)
Training courses on the sustainable cultivation of red seaweed raise awareness among the population of environmental conservation. Photo: Ocean Farmers
Farmer in a boat collects seaweed (Madagascar)
The red seaweed plays an important role in maintaining an equilibrium in the maritime ecosystem. Photo: Ocean Farmers

In the project region, production of red seaweed increased by 67 per cent between 2018 and 2021. The project has set new standards for good sustainable practices in seaweed cultivation and secured Ocean Farmers a safe means of producing raw Cottonii for export.

  • Over 1,800 farmers in 40 villages completed training courses in maritime conservation and sustainable farming methods
  • Five maps for red seaweed aquaculture and marine conservation have been created
  • A comic in a local language summarising the training content was distributed to the predominantly illiterate farmers
  • The local species of red seaweed should be improved through selection and induction before being used for commercial cultivation. This option will be explored further with scientific and commercial partners


Stacked coins

Incomes from red seaweed cultivation increased by 78 per cent between 2018 and 2021


834 farmers grow red seaweed sustainably in 666 hectares of seawater

Arrow pointing down

Alternative source of income relieves pressure on the overfished maritime ecosystem


Gear and stopwatch

Diversification of traditional fisheries

Globe with pin

Securing and improving red seaweed export as a business area

Arrow pointing down

Relieving pressure on octopus fishing areas as the main export product

Woman working at a loom

develoPPP Classic

develoPPP Classic is aimed at medium-sized and large companies that want to invest sustainably in a developing or emerging country and expand their operational activities locally. Suitable projects receive technical and financial support of up to two million euros in public funding.

Ocean Farmers logo

Ocean Farmers

Ocean Farmers was founded in 2017 and is now the leading producer and exporter of red seaweed in Madagascar. The sustainable aquaculture model developed with COPEFRITO and develoPPP is to be extended to other regions of Madagascar. This is done in line with the National Strategy for Aquaculture and together with civil society, public actors and national and international technical and financial partners.

KfW logo

DEG – Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH

As subsidiary of KfW, DEG promotes the social and ecological transition of the private sector in developing and emerging-market countries. It supports partner companies with financing expertise and entrepreneurial know-how to implement impactful develoPPP projects under their own management.

Fred Pascal
Fred Pascal Co-founder and CEO Ocean Farmers
KfW DEG Impulse logo
Niklas Fischer Project manager develoPPP DEG Impulse gGmbH