Seaweed is harvested on a weekly basis after 6 or 8 weeks of growth depending on the culture method you use.
It is the responsibility of the seaweed farmer to harvest the crop, dry the harvested seaweed and keep it in a well protected place such as a storage shed until the buyer comes to the village to collect it.
The Farmer's Responsibility
Harvesting is a simple work to perform. It involves:
removing of the mature seaweed plants from the lines by unfastening the raffia knots, or by breaking off the plants;
spreading the seaweed plants over a drying rack; and then
removing raffia and other unwanted materials.
The drying rack should be built in such a way, keeping in mind that air should easily circulate through the seaweed to assure good ventilation and quick drying.
The simplest way to dry seaweed is by spreading the harvested wet seaweed over a net, a tarpaulin or over coconut leaves on the ground. However, in this way only the seaweed exposed directly to the sun (top portion) will dry efficiently and the remaining (lower portion) will stay wet.
Air ventilation is very limited when seaweed is dried on the ground as shown in the photo below.
Photo of seaweed drying on tarpaulin on the grass in the village backyard.
If you find it convenient and handy to dry the seaweed on the ground, be sure that the seaweed is at least partially dried. Fresh wet seaweed, just harvested, cannot be placed directly on tarpaulin for proper drying.
Moreover, if you dry the seaweed on the ground, sand, soil and other rubbish can mix with the wet seaweed. The seaweed buyers will not buy a dirty product.
The best way to dry seaweed, is to use a drying rack with the drying area made of sarlon netting. The rack can be constructed on shore or near your farm as shown in the figure below.
Photo of a drying rack placed in the shallow waters near the farm site. Note the large amount of posts, braces and timber used.
In some cases it might be difficult to find the netting which can also be expensive. You can use reeds or bamboo instead.
Just to give you an idea, consider that in an area of 100 square meters (20 meter by 5 meter) of sarlon netting, you can dry approximately 80 lines of mature seaweed at one time or more.
With plenty of sunshine, let's say 8 to 9 hours a day, the drying process will take you 3 to 5 days. Seaweed should be frequently tedded or turned for proper and quick drying. Also, for efficient drying, make sure the seaweed is thinly and evenly spread.
Detailed drawing of a drying rack with dimensions. A drying rack as the one designed above, can be placed in shallow water near your farm.
Drawing of a drying rack placed on shore. Shore racks are easier to construct and also cheaper.
If you weigh your seaweed before and after drying, you will find out that the original weight has decreased by approximately 10 times. So, if you had 10 kg of wet seaweed, after 3 to 5 days of sun drying, it will weigh only 1 kg. This is called 10 to 1 wet to dry ratio.
The minimum moisture content which is required by the seaweed buyers, is about 35 %. Don't worry! You do not need to measure the moisture content of your seaweed before selling it. Just make sure that seaweed is properly dried as suggested.
Well dried seaweed is covered with plenty of salt crystals and have rubber-like texture when you squeeze it and no water should drip from it.
It is wise to cover the drying seaweed during rainy weather or at night with a tarpaulin or anything that can prevent the seaweed from getting wet. You might have unexpected showers at night! If seaweed is rain-washed, it will take more time to dry and you will face a further weight loss. This is a disadvantage for the seaweed farmer as the moisture content will be lower and the seaweed will become partially rigid. Very difficult to pack.
Rain-washed seaweed will give you less money than you might expect.
Storage of Dried Seaweed
After drying and before packing the seaweed, be sure to remove any rubbish material (raffia, pieces of nylon ropes, plastics, other unwanted seaweeds, etc.). The people that come to your village to buy seaweed, will appreciate a clean and well dried product.
Well dried seaweed with salt crystals on its surface can be stored for a long time; up to 2 years without getting spoiled. The salt covering the seaweed prevents the spoilage of the carrageenan. Of course it is important that seaweed is stored properly.
It is always a good idea to pack your seaweed in polypropylene bags soon after drying and store it in a dry area. Polypropylene bags are the best because they do not soak up water as compared with jute bags.
In some cases you can store the packed seaweed in your house, if there is enough space. You can also build a storage shed in the village.
It is the responsibility of the buyer to bale the seaweed and move the bales to the collection centers for consolidation and loading of the containers. He will also take care of transporting the container to the closest harbor with access to international routes for export. He will take charge of dealing with the overseas buyer.
The Buyer's Responsibility
Dried seaweed already packed in bags, should be transported to collection centers in the shortest time to allow the buyer to bale the seaweed.
A quick baling is important because it will prevent moisture being re-absorbed into the seaweed as compared to seaweed kept loosely in bags.
In the next page are listed the advantages of baling seaweed. Do not under estimate the advantages of baling. Even if such operation will require extra costs for material and labor, it is considered of extreme importance for an efficient post-harvest technique.
prolonged storage time without spoilage of seaweed;
reduced space necessary for storage;
easier handling of bales compared to seaweed kept loosely in polypropylene bags;
more efficient way to export seaweed overseas.
The figure below shows a baling machine commonly utilized to pack seaweed at the collection centers.
Photo of a baling machine and of a 100 kg seaweed bale in the foreground. This is a simple machine operated by a screw press.
Seaweed is moved from the growing areas to the collection points for baling and consolidating enough volume for export. From here, the bales are transported by sea or road to the closest port with access to international shipping routes.
The industrial processing of seaweed is done in overseas countries at present, but if Fiji grows enough seaweed, we can start to process it ourselves.
The bales can be accommodated into containers which can hold up to 20 tonnes or more of dried seaweed.
Eucheuma seaweed can be harvested after 8 weeks of growth. During the year, it is possible to achieve at least 5 harvests; one every 2 months.
If weather remains favorable, an additional harvest can be obtained unless it is necessary to commit some time for social and/or traditional activities.
At maturity (8 weeks), about 30 kg of wet seaweed can be harvested from each line planted with 30 seeds. After drying the seaweed, from each line you can obtain about 3 kg of dried seaweed.
In a realistic situation, as experienced by many seaweed farmers, you will not be able to harvest on a regular basis. Rainy weather sometimes last several days or weeks. In this condition it will a problem to find a shade to protect your harvest form rain and dry the seaweed. You might then decide not to harvest during this time. The seaweed will keep growing and as a result at the harvest, you will be able to obtain more than 3 kg from each line.
Based on the work done by one man only, it is possible to harvest 10 lines of mature seaweed every day. In a week, working only 4 days, 40 lines can be harvested giving you a total of 120 kg of dried seaweed.
If you are able to harvest seaweed 5 times over a 12-month period, you will be able to sell 4,800 kg of dried seaweed.
How can you achieve this result? Carefully read the outline given in the next page.
|From one seaweed line||30 kg of wet seaweed or 3 kg dried seaweed|
|In one working day||10 lines or 30 kg dried seaweed|
|In one week (4 working days)||40 lines or 120 kg dried seaweed|
|During eight weeks cycle||320 lines or 960 kg dried seaweed|
|In one year (5 harvests)||1,600 lines or 4,800 kg dried seaweed|
These estimations are not theoretical. They are the results of observations and studies of real situations.
It should be clear though, what we have outlined applies to the most commonly used culture method: the off-bottom method.
If you wish to culture your seaweed using the raft or floating method because is more appropriate to the area you have selected for farming, a different production is expected.
Using the floating method, Eucheuma seaweed should grow faster because it is cultivated closer to the water surface. Eucheuma might be ready to be harvested in 6 or 7 instead of 8 weeks. Thus, more harvests can be obtained every year.
Each floating frame planted with 225 seeds (150 gram each), can produce about 337 kg of wet seaweed or approximately 33 kg of dried seaweed.
One man alone can harvest up to 4 frames every week (1 every day). Owing to the shorter period necessary to harvest mature seaweed, up to 8 harvests can be achieved in one year giving you a total annual yield of 6,336 kg of dried seaweed.
Carefully read the illustration in the next page to find out how you can achieve this production:
|From one frame||337 kg of wet seaweed or 33 kg dried seaweed|
|In one working day||1 frame|
|In one week (4 working days)||4 frames or 132 kg dried seaweed|
|In six week cycle||24 frames or 792 kg of dried seaweed|
|In one year (8 harvests)||192 frames or 6,336 kg of dried seaweed|
Because the floating frame method has been introduced in Fiji recently, the figures outlined above are only estimations.
The Longline Method has not yet been used in Fiji, but the Fisheries Division will be making trials in future.
As your work progresses and you become a well established seaweed farmer, private companies working in the seaweed business, may come to you and offer their technical expertise and help you to expand your farm.
A few years ago, a New Zealand company set up one of its branches in Fiji. The company helped villagers to start seaweed farming. They also bought all the seaweed produced in Fiji and took care of its export.
Today, a newly established Fiji company, Seaweed (South Pacific) Ltd., is the sole marketing agent in Fiji. They will buy all the seaweed you can produce.
Seaweed (South Pacific) Ltd., already has several collection centers where you can sell your dried seaweed. These are in places like Moturiki, Kiuva, Kasavu, and Lautoka. More collection centers will be located in new areas later on as seaweed farming develops in Fiji.
Photo of a seaweed farmer at a collection center in Kiuva. Here the farmers can sell the dried seaweed.
Photo of the shed built in Kiuva. Here the dried seaweed is consolidated and later baled for export.
In countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, seaweed farming is very common. These countries produce most of the seaweed used by the industry in the world. In the past years they had some financial problems when the price of seaweed dropped because of an over-production.
Today the situation has changed and the production of seaweed is lower than the amount required by the industry every year. This is because many new products which include carrageenan have been developed. Since the demand for carrageenan exceeds the world production, the processors are willing to pay a higher price for your seaweed.
So, plant and cultivate more seaweed and make some extra money while the opportunity exists.
The opinion of the experts is that, till 1992 the total volume of seaweed produced in the world will not be enough to satisfy the needs of the processing industry and therefore the seaweed market price will not decrease.
By 1992, if enough farmers are growing seaweed, Fiji will be able to set up its own processing plant and this will help guarantee the local price against possible future fluctuations in the world market price. New uses are being found for carrageenan and this will keep the market expanding.
Another prospect for the future is the culture of other types of useful seaweeds, for example agar-producer. The Fisheries Division will be researching the ways of widening and diversifying Fiji's seaweed industry.
Remember: seaweed is a crop which requires low capital investment and has a rapid rate of return (5 or 6 crops per year). With the current high price level, this makes a very good way of making money particularly in places where agricultural land is scarce.