Last Updated on March 19, 2023
A unique thing to do in Paje, Zanzibar is to take a tour of Mwani Zanzibar. Mwani is the Swahili word for ‘seaweed’ so Mwani Zanzibar sometimes referred to as the Paje seaweed center. For $10 (USD) visitors can take an approximately 90 minute tour which is split into two parts. The first part takes place down on the beach, a short walk from the centre and the second part is at the centre itself. It’s a great way of learning about seaweed farming in Zanzibar and ones of the island’s biggest exports! Here’s what you need to know about visiting!
🗺Paje, Zanzibar (Tanzania)
🕖Approximately 90 minutes
Like most places in Paje, I discovered that street addresses and road names don’t really exist, so I did find it a little tricky trying to find Mwani Zanzibar. It’s located right at the northern end of the village. Walking along the beach, there’s an alleyway alongside Paje Kitesurf School, when it reaches the road, turn right and then follow it around to the left.
I have included a Google Map at the bottom of the post!
Please note, that the tours do not leave at a set time. It all depends on the tide, the tours can only take place at low tide. Sometimes when the lagoon doesn’t really empty, the tours may not be running. I turned up on the off chance and was told that they’d be able to run a tour around 10am.
What Is Mwani Zanzibar?
So what is Mwani Zanzibar? Mwani Zanzibar is a company that farms and processes seaweed, turning it into cosmetics and skincare products. Seaweed is jam packed full of vitamins such as A, B, C, E and K which helps with the natural production of collagen within the skin.
If you walk along Paje Beach early in the morning on a low tide day, you’ll often see local woman walking in the ocean, collecting seaweed. These are a little different to the ‘Mwani Mamas’. There are almost 30,000 women operating ‘independently’, that collect the seaweed primarily for export. It’s one of the Zanzibar’s biggest exports behind spices such as clove. However, the Mwani Mamas are employed by Mwani Zanzibar. They receive a salary, benefits, uniform and are training in the cosmetic making process.
Seaweed Center Paje Tour
On arrival to Mwani Zanzibar, visitors receive a hibiscus juice welcome drink. Even though the sand on Paje Beach is mostly soft, they had water shoes we could borrow as there was a bit of a walk back to the beach. They have a variety of sizes available or you are welcome to take along your own.
Next we were given a wide rimmed hat to wear. These are what the Mwani Mamas wear to protect themselves from the sun, while working on the beach. We also each carried a long wooden stick down to the beach with us.
Seaweed Farming in Zanzibar
There is a section just off the beach which I can only describe as lots of little washing lines with seaweed tied to them. They are completely covered up with the sea most of the time, but at low tide, they are exposed.
With the introduction of this type of farming, it has actually stopped the drag net fishing which is extremely harmful to sea life. Anything caught by the fishing net, which is not edible, is just left on the beach to die.
The long bamboo poles we were carrying became new ‘washing lines’. Our guide showed how the drive the stick into the sand, burying it by almost 2/3rds. We then had a turn and it took 3 of us switching to get it to the same depth. The women make it look easy but it is tough going!
We then double knotted small bunches of Eucheuma Cottonii seaweed onto one of the lines which eventually was attached to the stakes in the water. These bunches of seaweed take between 6-8 weeks to increase in size before it is harvested. This type of seaweed isn’t actually native to Zanzibar. It’s mostly imported from the Philippines but it’s pretty sustainable once cultivation begins.
Turning Seaweed into Cosmetics
On return to the seaweed center, we washed off our feet and were then given a smoothie which is made with the seaweed. We actually got to taste it in its natural form (it is edible and safe to eat!). It reminded me of a bit like a cooked but salty beansprout (the type that’s commonly found in stir fry dishes). Within the juice though, the taste was mostly masked by the other fruits that were included as it is mostly included for its health benefits (all the vitamins mentioned above).
Once the seaweed has been harvested, it is laid out to dry in the sun which doesn’t take very long at all. When the seaweed is dry, it turns a purple pink colour. It’s then ground into a powder to be mixed with other ingredients to create skin care products.
The Production Room
Unfortunately no photos or videos can be taken within the production room. On the day I visited various soaps were being made. A couple of women were slicing big blocks into smaller bars, using something similar to cheese wire and big rectangular metal blades. It was a two person job, one would hold it steady in the mould while the other would cut.
The Mwani Zanzibar logo was then stamped onto each bar before being put into a 23c ‘fridge’ to finish the solidifying/drying out process (which takes around another 6 weeks). Once fully dried, the individual bars are wrapped in banana leaves, ready of sale.
There’s a small shop selling all the different types of soap, body scrubs and oils. The seaweed infused soaps are combined with a host of different spices and ingredients, such as: coffee, turmeric and cloves.
Mwani Zanzibar Location
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