Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said on Wednesay the Department of Agricultue (DA) through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) will establish a National Seaweed Program to prepare local farmers to meet the growing demand in the world market for locally grown seaweed.
To accomplish this, Piñol said that the DA and BFAR will craft a roadmap to implement the program that would pave way for a more aggressive seaweed farming in the country in the next five years.
He added that the roadmap aims to lower the country’s reliance on imported seaweed through massive planting of seaweed, both for food and feeds, in strategic areas nationwide.
“Also include in the roadmap is how we are going to utilize idle fish ponds in the country,” Piñol said after a meeting with an Irish seaweed company on March 30.
Ocean Harvest Technology Ltd. (OHT) Quality and Resource Manager, Dr. Simon Faulker, presented to Piñol the company’s proposal to develop and commercialize ulva, also known as sea lettuce in the Philippines and process it into animal feeds.
“We want to purchase dry seaweeds or the ulva from your local farmers. Ulva is considered a nuisance but it is good source of minerals and vitamins, which is good for making animal feeds,” Faulker said.
OHT also signified its interest to explore the possibility of harvesting ulva in Cebu, Bohol, Pampanga and Tawi-Tawi, sites that the company officials visited last January.
Ulva can also be found in many areas of Pangasinan, La Union and Ilocos Norte.
If OHT’s proposal is approved, the company will purchase about 3,000 tons of dried seaweed in the country which will be processed in their facility in Vietnam. The by-products of ulva are already being marketed in some parts of US and Canada.
Seaweeds are marine resources of various economic importance and used either for food and non-food purposes. These are also a good source of raw materials for many industries such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, pet feed, and fertilizers.
World demand for carregeenan continues to grow while Philippine processors are now importing up to 60,00 metric tons dry weight from Indonesia to fill in the shortfall each year.
During the meeting, National Seaweed Coordinator Irma Ortiz said BFAR wants to bring back the time when the Philippines was one of the world’s leading producer of seaweeds such as Euchema and Kappaphycus.
According to data from the Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA), Indonesia overtook the country in the volume of seaweeds produced in 2008. The following year, it produced 2.79 million metric tons, 60 percent higher than the Philippines’ production of only 1.73 MMT.
“BFAR aims to increase seaweed production by at least five percent annually from 2017-2022,” Ortiz said.
In line with this, Piñol also recommended setting up a seaweed processing facility in the country. At the same time, he said farmers must also get organized and the government can help in this regard.
Ortiz also said local seaweed farmers are hampered by their limited access to credit and the lack of knowhow in marketing, limited source of alternative-income from seaweeds because they are dependent mostly on their income from selling raw dried seaweed.
She added that farmers must also have better access to research and developments on seaweed applications, promotions of available seaweed products, and be provided with sustainable and climate-proof agri-fishery facilities.
To address this challenges, BFAR implemented three key programs for the seaweeds sector namely: Mas Saganang Anihan (training for farmers and production of climate-resilient species), Mas Siglang Samahan (seaweed farmers were trained to be entrepreneurs), and Mas Saganang Sama-Sakang Kalakalan (promoting community-based product champions).