Empowering coastal communities through innovative sustainable agriculture

Empowering coastal communities through innovative sustainable agriculture

Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

To create an innovative sustainable alternative livelihood - sea cucumber farming - within some of Madagascar’s poorest communities. We are empowering marginalized fishing villages to pioneer village-based mariculture in which hatchery-reared juvenile sea cucumbers are raised in simple sea pens from which families derive direct financial benefit.

About You
Project Street Address
Project City
Project Province/State
Project Postal/Zip Code
Project Country
Your idea
Country your work focuses on:


YouTube Upload
What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1-5 years

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?


Describe your idea in fewer than 50 words.

To create an innovative sustainable alternative livelihood - sea cucumber farming - within some of Madagascar’s poorest communities. We are empowering marginalized fishing villages to pioneer village-based mariculture in which hatchery-reared juvenile sea cucumbers are raised in simple sea pens from which families derive direct financial benefit.

What makes your idea unique?

Sea cucumbers are a marine invertebrate commonly found in sandy tropical environments. Species are prized by Asian markets for their alleged aphrodisiac properties, and can fetch up to 220 US$ per kilogram, Populations have plummeted throughout the world’s tropical oceans in response to growing market demand for export. This project has built a unique partnership between indigenous coastal communities and fisheries export companies to create the first aquaculture initiative of its kind in the world. The project provides hatchery-reared juvenile sea cucumbers to coastal villages for growing on to commercial size in simple underwater pens before being processed and exported to supply overseas markets. In each village, families are supported with the construction of pens which are stocked with several hundred juveniles. The cost of these juveniles is deducted from the sale price, so that any risk to communities is absorbed by Blue Ventures, which purchases the juveniles. The grow-out cycle takes approximately 12 months, and with stocking and subsequent harvesting occurring every 3 months, will provide a family with an average income of 60 US dollars per month; approximately twice the average monthly wage in the region. This project is intended to provide communities with a supplementary income and to compliment the development of a sustainable community marine protected area in the region. This unique project has huge potential to spread to coastal regions throughout Africa.

What is your area of work? (Please check as many as apply.)

Community development , Economic development , Employment , Income generation , Poverty alleviation , Rural development , Sustainable development , Environment & Sustainability , Biodiversity , Conservation , Sustainable agriculture , Gender equity , Indigenous cultures , Women's issues , Citizen sector , Cultural preservation .

What impact have you had?

2 years into the project, trials have proven the viability of growing hatchery-reared juveniles in their natural environment, in community-supervised pens. The current phase is focused on refining the underlying business model that defines the relationship between communities, the hatchery, fisheries exporters and Blue Ventures (BV). Networks of underwater pens have been built for 25 distinct family units in 4 villages. The grouping of production units based on family lineages reflects the social structure of communities in this region, who traditionally share fishing materials and distribute catches among all members of the group. This work is culturally sensitive and highly accepted by the local communities, which is a barrier to agriculture work in Africa. With financial support and technical guidance from BV, the farmers are able to construct their own pens and buy batches of juveniles on credit from the hatchery to rear. The farmers undertake regular maintenance of the pens, checking the nets for holes and cleaning away drift seaweed daily; and monitoring growth rates monthly. Once the sea cucumbers reach a commercial size (300-350g) they are re-sold live to the hatchery, with the cost of the juveniles reimbursed at the point of sale. The first harvests have been sold to export markets and communities are being supported in reinvesting the income generated. By the end of 2010, it's expected that over 750 people will financially benefit directly from this new activity.

Describe the primary problem(s) that your project is addressing.

Coastal communities in remote southwest Madagascar are entirely dependent on dwindling marine resources for subsistence, income and cultural identity. The region's isolated villages are inhabited by the indigenous Vezo, whose identity is defined by a seafaring way of life. The rural setting of the region - its extreme isolation, difficulty of access, lack of communication and aridity - mean that there is little opportunity for earning money through land-based agriculture and accessible marine resources are therefore exploited. In addition to these severe physical limitations, villagers do not have the technical know-how, management capacity, market access or financial resources necessary for diversification of the economy. There is an urgent and crucial need for viable alternative livelihoods to be developed, particularly for women and the elderly, who do not participate in sea fishing.

Describe the steps that your organization is taking to make your project successful.

A number of social models of ownership are being tested, including working with family lineages, associations or groups of families. A written agreement which specifies the conditions and undertakings of each party is drawn up between each group and BV. The project aims to source and finance the start-up materials for 4 pens per group and provide training and supervision during pen construction. The farming system has been designed to follow best-practice methods for aquaculture and to generate substantial revenues for farmers. Production models are based on critical carrying capacity of local habitats to ensure that sea cucumbers can reach commercial size in 12 months without input of additional feed. A quarterly cycle of stocking and harvesting spreads both the risks associated with the exploitation, together with the income generated from harvest, evenly throughout the year.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Success in Year 1:

Seacucumber aquaculture is a simple technology that uses locally available materials, requires low capital investment and low labour inputs and is a socio-culturally acceptable activity for indigenous Vezo fishers. By the end of the first year, each family production unit will have developed the skills to construct pens, handle juveniles, monitor growth and survival and raise juveniles to commercial size.

Success in Year 2:

Dependent on the ability of hatchery in Tulear to increase its capacity to produce sufficient juveniles to regularly supply all 25 family groups with juveniles and decrease their production costs so that families are able to pay the full cost of the juveniles and not rely on external funding to subsidise the cost. We are working with fisheries companies to ensure communities benefit economically from the project over the first two years of this initiative. Our goal for the second year is to ensure communities gain enough profit to reinvest in project expansion in subsequent years.

Success in Year 3:

The long-term sustainability of the initiative depends on the ability of the family production groups to manage their own microenterprise developments. Building of local skills and capacity, particularly in project, business and financial management, will be fundamental to ensure effective local ownership of the project in all villages. Blue Ventures' continued presence working alongside local partners throughout the project will ensure communities are able to meet these challenges, however external funding will still be required to pay for material costs, support staff and transport costs.

Do you have a business plan or strategic plan? (yes/no)

Yes: the plan focuses on full cost recovery and reinvestment of harvest profits for replication.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization? STEP 1:

Capacity building and empowerment of local communities to manage the project without Blue Ventures’ continued technical support. Family production units are receiving ongoing training and assistance to manage their business in a sustainable, profitable manner, through the re-investment of profits to expand the initiative and equitable distribution of profits to the benefit of all members of the family group. Community members are being trained as ‘trainers’ so they develop the skills to train individuals and family groups in local villages to carry out project activities independently.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization? STEP 2:

Development of effective local aquaculture cooperatives to ensure fisheries companies provide communities with fair price for each year’s harvest. The cooperative will be equipped with the skills and a functioning office and personnel for the administration of projects. Its role will be to organise partner family groups, plan project timetables, budgets, business plans and revenue streams, implement project activities and monitor and evaluate project progress. In addition members will be trained as ‘trainers’ so they develop local skills and capacity to expand the project themselves.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization? STEP 3:

A fundamental priority to ensure maximum long-term benefits to partner communities will be to integrate family group production equitably into foreign export markets through the long-term partnership and cooperation of regional private sector fisheries collection and export companies, and the eventual Fair Trade (or Marine Stewardship Council) certification of the business products and supply chain. Blue Ventures is supporting communities to build mutually beneficial business partnerships with fisheries enterprises to secure a profitable long-term future for this project.

Describe the expected results of these actions.

The experiences and know-how gained from this project will allow replication of this truly pioneering initiative in other villages in Madagascar. The results of the project are being published in the form of a guidance document and toolkit for aquaculture-based small business development for coastal communities in East African and the Indian Ocean island states. This will permit other CBOs or NGOs to follow the novel approach and business model developed in this initiative.

What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

Blue Ventures' work in Vezo communities has given our team firsthand experience of the marine biodiversity crisis facing the region. Over-exploitation of marine resources combined with the effects of climate change, pollution and sedimentation from up-stream deforestation, are all responsible for degradation of the region's unique coral reef ecosystems, upon which the livelihoods and cultures of the Vezo communities depend. The region's marine environment, which comprises one of the largest coral reef systems in the Indian Ocean, is no longer able to deliver the same ecosystem benefits per capita, and this environmental decline is forcing villagers into more intensive, destructive extraction in an effort to maintain the flow of benefits. The increasing fishing pressure further degrades the ecosystem, in a self-reinforcing negative feedback, that pushes the resource-dependent people deeper into poverty. Sea cucumber farming presents one of the few viable alternative livelihood opportunities in the region. Trials conducted by Blue Ventures over recent years have demonstrated that this initiative has enormous potential to reduce poverty by enabling people to earn cash through diversifying and improving livelihoods and by integrating local production equitably into export markets. In doing so this initiative can work to protect the ecosystems, fisheries and cultural traditions that underpin local livelihoods and Vezo identity.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

Alasdair Harris, the founder of Blue Ventures and an Ashoka Fellow, has initiated the development of marine protected areas, sustainable fishing and alternative livelihood programmes in southwest Madagascar. In 2007 Georgi Robinson came to BV as the Aquaculture Coordinator and now lives and works alongside indigenous Vezo fishing communities. Her expertise in fisheries aquaculture was necessary to drive the project forward, As an aquaculture manager in Scotland she created a business plan for a salmon farm to diversify into integrated aquaculture. After raising finance she developed technology and husbandry protocols for cultivation of seaweed and sea urchins on a commercial scale and introduced cultivation trials. Prior to this, she was Assistant Project Manager at the Kaledupa Fisheries Project in SE Sulawesi, Indonesia. Here she was responsible for the development of a framework for fisheries co-management with a local NGO within four villages. This involved developing fisheries and socioeconomic monitoring programmes, training local fishers and NGO staff, holding focus groups, developing agreements between villages and managing budgets. Georgi's work has demonstrated that sea cucumber farming provides a practicable and replicable alternative livelihood for coastal people and thereby has the potential to contribute positively to the impact and effectiveness of marine conservation and coastal poverty alleviation actions throughout the broader Indian Ocean.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Our organization participated in the 2008 Changemakers Geotourism Challenge.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

The project has already overcome considerable challenges. In 2009 alone, the pens have survived two cyclones and a series of tropical storms, as well as a political coup that has brought economic turmoil to much of the country. The coup has left 3.5 million people - over 25% of the country's population - in need of external aid. The need for profitable alternative livelihoods in the remote and economically marginalized south of Madagascar has never been greater. There is a risk that it may not be a profitable venture for the hatchery in the long-term, however their focus is not monetary, instead their vision is to create a viable alternative livelihood for marginalized fishing communities. Market failure is the most serious perceived threat; however the market for sea cucumber products is growing in value as wild resources diminish. The export value of the product is increasing annually as wild sea cucumbers become a vanishing commodity. This is the only project of its kind working to commercialise sea cucumber mariculture in the entire IndoPacific region, therefore partner communities currently have an invaluable market opportunity. Although to date, many technical and financial problems have already been solved, the successful continuation of this unique project beyond this pilot phase will rely on external support from technical partners.

Financing source
If yes, provide organization name.

Yes, Blue Ventures

How long has this organization been operating? (i.e. less than a year; 1-5 years; more than 5 years)

More than 5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?

Yes: we are a social enterprise, governed by Directors, Trustees, and advisors.

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs? (yes/no)


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses? (yes/no)


The Story
Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government? (yes/no)


Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

Blue Ventures works under an "Accord de Siege" with the Government of Madagascar and the Institute Halietique et des Sciences Marines (IHSM) in Tulear, SW Madagascar. These agreements are built on longstanding relations developed over the past decade between Blue Ventures and Malagasy government institutions, and allows Blue Ventures to develop conservation and development programmes within the Republic. These national partnerships support the project in the development of collaborations with the other institutions, companies and stakeholders involved in this sea cucumber mariculture programme. Blue Ventures works with 25 villages in the vicinity of the sea cucumber mariculture project, and has developed numerous conservation initiatives in the region (see www.livewiththesea.org for more information).

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is your organization's business classification?

Non-profit/NGO/citizen sector organization

What is the total number of employees and total number of volunteers at your organization?


Have you received funding from any of the following groups? (Please check as many as apply.)

African Development Bank , MacArthur Foundation/Grant , United Nations Development Progam (UNDP) , World Wildlife Fund (WWF) .