How Seaweed Provided Income in Bali During COVID-19 and Will Become a Part of Their Tourism Industry

by | May 11, 2024 | Economics, Society, Tourism | 0 comments

Seaweed Farming in Bali

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when global travel restrictions caused a drastic downturn in tourism—a key economic driver for Bali—seaweed farming emerged not only as a vital source of income for the residents of Nusa Penida but also as a potential cornerstone for a more sustainable tourism model.

Seaweed farming, a longstanding traditional activity on the island, provided much-needed economic stability during uncertain times. Now, as Bali seeks to redefine its tourism industry with a focus on sustainability and cultural respect, integrating seaweed farming into the tourism experience presents a promising opportunity.

Seaweed cultivation in Nusa Penida has been primarily managed by local families, with many women playing significant roles. These farmers have adapted by forming collectives such as the Sari Segara Women’s Farming Group, which has started producing seaweed-based products like soaps and skincare items, targeting the tourist market. This approach not only diversifies their income but also empowers local communities, particularly women, by giving them direct access to the benefits of both the agriculture and tourism sectors.


 The push to develop seaweed tourism is driven by several factors. First, it offers a unique, authentic experience that differentiates Nusa Penida from other destinations in Bali. Tourists increasingly seek unique and meaningful experiences, and seaweed farms provide just that—a chance to learn about sustainable agriculture, local ecology, and cultural practices. Secondly, integrating seaweed farming with tourism helps spread tourist dollars more evenly across the island’s economy, supporting local employment and reducing poverty among the island’s residents, 39% of whom live on or below the living wage.

Plans are underway to develop dedicated tourism programs that highlight seaweed farming. These would not only educate visitors about the cultivation process but also involve them in hands-on activities, from planting to harvesting, alongside local farmers. Moreover, products derived from seaweed can be marketed as sustainable souvenirs, enhancing tourists’ overall engagement with the island’s culture and environmental efforts.

This integration strategy could transform Nusa Penida’s economic landscape by boosting local incomes, reducing economic disparities, and promoting gender equality, all while preserving and celebrating local traditions and natural landscapes. The initiative represents a holistic approach to tourism that benefits both visitors and residents, ensuring that as Bali’s tourism industry rebounds, it does so in a way that is sustainable, equitable, and inclusive.

When Did Seaweed Farming Start During the Pandemic?

Seawood in Bali

When the COVID-19 pandemic devastated global travel in 2020, with the decline of tourism, many Balinese turned to seaweed farming. This return to aquaculture has been both a survival strategy and a reminder of the island’s agricultural heritage.

Before the pandemic, Lembongan Island and other parts of Bali thrived on the influx of millions of tourists each year. But as travel restrictions took effect, and with tourism infrastructure largely dormant, locals like I Gede Darma Putra, a former dive master, found themselves returning to seaweed farming—a practice that had sustained their communities before Bali became a tourist paradise.

The shift is evident as many locals, previously employed in bars, restaurants, and other tourist-centric businesses, started harvesting seaweed, an industry that had largely been overshadowed by tourism for the past decade. This resurgence was seen as a potential turning point for Bali’s workforce, providing an opportunity to lessen the island’s dependence on international tourism and address some of the negative environmental impacts associated with it.

Despite its benefits, the transition was not without challenges. Seaweed farming offered lower financial returns compared to the lucrative tourism sector. Current earnings from seaweed in 2020 significantly reduced, with prices around 12,000 rupiah (approximately 80 U.S. cents) per kilogram, just over half of what was earned before the pandemic. This stark decrease highlighted the economic pressures faced by local farmers during the Covid season.

The economic and cultural shift has sparked a broader discussion about Bali’s economic future during that time. As noted by I Putu Astawa, head of the Bali Tourism Board, while agriculture was vital, it alone cannot restore Bali’s economy to its former state. Yet, voices like Wayan Ujiana, a teacher and seaweed farmer, advocate for a more diversified economic approach, suggesting that reliance solely on tourism was unsustainable too.

Media coverage has dubbed the revival season as “The Great Reboot,” indicating a possible long-term shift in Bali’s economic strategies. However, experts cautioned during that time that while seaweed farming has brought about positive economic outcomes since its introduction in the 1980s, its sustainability and long-term viability face hurdles such as supply chain limitations and evolving environmental conditions.

The story of Bali’s return to seaweed farming during COVID-19 serves as a poignant example of how communities can adapt and revert to traditional industries in times of global crises, potentially reshaping economic landscapes for a more balanced and sustainable future.

The resurgence of seaweed farming in Bali amid the COVID-19 pandemic represents not only a survival strategy for local communities but also a potential avenue for the island’s tourism industry to evolve into a more sustainable and inclusive model. Seaweed farming, deeply rooted in Bali’s cultural heritage, provided much-needed economic stability during a period of uncertainty, particularly in areas like Nusa Penida. By integrating seaweed farming into tourism initiatives, Bali has the opportunity to offer unique and authentic experiences to visitors while supporting local economies and empowering marginalised communities, especially women. As plans for dedicated tourism programs highlighting seaweed farming take shape, there is optimism for a more equitable and resilient economic future for Bali, driven by a holistic approach to tourism that celebrates local traditions and preserves natural landscapes. As the island rebounds from the pandemic’s impact, the lessons learned from the revival of seaweed farming underscore the importance of diversification and sustainability in shaping Bali’s economic trajectory for years to come.


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