5.1 FAO involvement in the seaweed industries - suggestions 19

5.2 Prospects in developing countries 19

5.3 Countries where market studies might be useful 21

5.4 Countries needing assistance for seaweed cultivation or related activities 22

5.5 Developing countries as raw material suppliers 22

5.6 Developing countries - prospects for processing industries 22

5.1 FAO involvement in the seaweed industries - suggestions

See section 4.1 for details.

  1. Spend less on short term contracts.

  2. Be prepared to enter into long term contracts, up to three-five years, preferably in collaboration with industry.

  3. Have commercial co-sponsors for regional workshops.

  4. Ensure the markets for seaweed products are real, as defined.

  5. Determine whether investment in the proposed seaweed activities is at least equal to other investment opportunities.

  6. Assess the effect of cultural barriers that may arise from the introduction of seaweed cultivation or related activities and plan accordingly.

  7. For seaweed cultivation, before the project begins, estimate the scale of operation that will be necessary for commercial viability.

  8. Promote the use of indigenous species for local uses and integrate seaweed utilisation with the other activities of the coastal people.

  9. A low technology approach may achieve more in the beginning, expanding activities and methods as markets demand.

  10. Study the long term effects of the introduction of non-indigenous species for commercial cultivation.

5.2 Prospects in developing countries

5.2.1 African countries

In East Africa the cultivation of Eucheuma denticulatum and Kappaphycus alvaresii for carrageenan extraction are established in Zanzibar; however there is currently an overproduction of the main crop, E. denticulatum and sales are difficult. Cultivation of these two carrageenophytes is under development in Mozambique with commercial backing; the company involved believes there is also potential in Kenya and Somalia. However none of the pilot studies by government organisations in Kenya have been promising. In Namibia commercial interests are assisting the cultivation of Gracilaria for agar extraction; a new use for kelps is being developed, as an additive to salt so that the iodine content of the salt is increased using an additive that does not separate from the salt during transportation.

Senegal appears to be the only African country where FAO input could be of benefit at present. There is one company that is actively trying to revive interest in harvesting wild Hypnes musciformis and a cooperative program between the company and either the Senegal government or FAO for the training of coastal people in the collection and post harvest treatment of seaweed would be beneficial to the coastal communities. This might later be extended to attempts to cultivate Hypnea, if the commercial demand is there for more product.

The ideas from Great Sea Vegetables, already active in West Africa, could also be tried in Senegal if the company is not already working there.

5.2.2 Asian countries

Of the countries considered, China, Indonesia and Viet Nam offer the best prospects for positive results from any input from FAO.

Proposals from China for the complementary cultivation of seaweed and marine animals, to overcome problems of eutrophication of waters, are worth pursuing and the benefits would be applicable to other countries involved in the aquaculture of fish, shrimp and shellfish. China has the proven scientific and practical expertise to pursue such work.

Indonesia needs more, and better quality, Gracilaria for its agar industry. The present seedstock is chosen at random and of mediocre to poor quality; there is one government research organisation in Ujung Pandung capable of searching for seedstock that yields a higher quality agar. One of the largest agar extraction companies, certainly the one with the most sophisticated equipment, is very interested in obtaining better raw material and could be willing to join in a cooperative venture with FAO, along the lines suggested in section 4.1.2 of this report.

In Viet Nam there have been studies on the cultivation of Kappaphycus and Gracilaria, some of the work on Gracilaria was funded by FAO. The results are not clear, nor is the driving force behind the studies. There appears to be a demand for both seaweeds but this would need to be confirmed by a market survey before any other FAO commitment was made. The market study would need to identify exactly which companies would be buying the seaweeds, probably international processors for the carrageenan-containing Kappaphycus but Vietnamese agar processors would be preferable for Gracilaria; however such general statements are unacceptable, more specific details should be obtained.

5.2.3 Latin American countries

Colombia and Ecuador offer possibilities, especially Colombia with its two different coasts. However there is no interest from any commercial organisations at this time so it is doubtful that any FAO money should be spent there. Cuba has developed methods for cultivating seaweeds and also has some knowledge about extraction procedures but lacks the necessary capital or foreign investment needed to establish any industry. Wild seaweeds are collected and exported from Peru and one company, with several years experience in the business, believes there is further scope for harvesting the wild seaweeds and that any cultivation would be premature at this time.

Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela offer the best prospects for development of seaweed-based industries.

Argentina has one large producer of agar that can no longer find sufficient wild resources of Gracilaria; the same company produces carrageenan from imported seaweed. That company might be interested in a cooperative project with FAO for the cultivation of Argentinean Gracilaria; however the cost of such cultivated seaweed would need to be compared with competitive raw material available from Chile.

Sea conditions are probably suitable for the cultivation of edible seaweeds such as nori, green nori and wakame. There is a small market within Argentina; the present and potential markets would need to be assessed before any development was funded.

Two carrageenan-containing seaweeds are candidates for possible cultivation, Gigartina skottsbergii and Sarcothalia crispata. The potential market, within Argentina and for export, would need to be carefully assessed before cultivation studies were funded.

Brazil: a very well structured project is currently being considered by FAO to farm seaweeds by low income, coastal populations in the north-east of the country.

In Mexico the problem appears to be finding investors willing to become involved in the seaweed industry. Better surveys of wild stocks are needed, as are more productive cultivation techniques. However there is little point in FAO or other aid money being spent on these projects unless there are investors willing to use the results. A combination of aid and investor money for development projects would be more likely to lead to a commercial outcome, with the investor utilising the results.

The cultivation of edible seaweeds has been suggested and this could be more profitable than cultivation for hydrocolloids. A market study of the potential for edible seaweeds is needed to encourage investors to become involved.

Abalone grow well when fed on seaweeds if a consistent nutritional quality can be guaranteed. This could be achieved by combining seaweed and abalone cultivation (wild seaweeds vary in their nutritional quality). A cooperative venture between FAO and abalone farmers could be of benefit to Mexico and other areas where abalone cultivation is successful.

Venezuela has one company that has been very active in encouraging seaweed cultivation and the use of native seaweeds for food and fertilisers. It guarantees the purchase of all harvested seaweed. It looks to FAO for support in convincing donors to make financial resources available to seaweed farmers in soft terms, and to develop social programmes that support the technological ones. It believes technical cooperation with developing countries must rely more and more on NGOs. The industry would benefit from any FAO programmes that gave technical assistance to public administration officers so they can realise the benefits of seaweed aquaculture and cooperate in its implementation.

5.2.4 Pacific Island countries

Tonga may need further FAO support if it decides to attempt cultivation of edible seaweeds for export to Japan.

5.3 Countries where market studies might be useful

For each country listed below, see section 5.2 for a brief summary and further details in sections 4.2 to 4.5, under the country name.

Viet Nam

5.4 Countries needing assistance for seaweed cultivation or related activities

For each country listed below, see section 5.2 for a brief summary and further details in sections 4.2 to 4.5, under the country name.

Viet Nam

5.5 Developing countries as raw material suppliers

Developing countries are well placed to be suppliers of raw material for either the hydrocolloid industry or edible seaweeds. Seaweed cultivation is usually very labour intensive so low labour costs are necessary to make it viable. Capital outlays can depend on the scale of operation but are usually small, although still beyond the affordability of some coastal people so that often seaweed buyers will provide initial finance to the growers.

Cultivation by vegetative reproduction requires the least capital; for example, to cultivate Kappaphycus the requirements are polypropylene lines stretched between stakes that are driven into the sea floor, a means of attaching the small pieces of seaweed to the lines, some kind of racks to dry the seaweed so that it is off the ground, away from contamination by sand etc; sometimes netting is placed around the perimeter of the area to capture any seaweed pieces that break off from the growing algae. Gracilaria is also grown vegetatively, sometimes on lines, sometimes by inserting pieces into a sandy sea bottom and holding them there by various means.

Cultivation via the sexual reproduction cycle requires a larger capital outlay and is best suited to edible seaweeds such as nori, kombu and wakame, where the additional expense can be recouped from the higher selling price of the final product.

Both methods of reproduction are labour intensive although Japan has mechanised some important stages in the production of nori from Porphyra, necessary because of the higher labour costs in that country.

5.6 Developing countries - prospects for processing industries

Developing countries should avoid becoming involved in processing seaweeds for hydrocolloid extraction unless it is in cooperation with international processors. The capital outlay is large, several million dollars, but the provision of capital does not ensure success. The chemistry for hydrocolloid extraction is simple but the technology and engineering aspects are complex, with detailed information being difficult to obtain unless it is a cooperative venture with an experienced producer. These comments apply especially to alginate and carrageenan extraction, agar is a little simpler but even here the best product at the most economical cost is obtained using equipment with a high capital cost. Developing countries can produce agar using low technology methods but the product would need to be consumed in the home country, it is unlikely to be competitive in the international market.

Another deterrent to developing countries becoming involved in hydrocolloid production is the difficulty in selling the products on the international market. Agar sales are split between a large number of producers and it is not too difficult to break into the market for food grade agar. The alginate and carrageenan industries are in the hands of a very limited number of producers who have strong control of the markets and can afford to supply specialised customer support for their sales. Customers are often reluctant to change suppliers because of the variability that can occur between brands, since the final properties of these natural products depend on both the source of the raw material and the nature of the extraction and refining processes. While some developing countries have developed extraction methods and sales to suit their own internal market, they often find it difficult to compete in the long term when international processors move into their market.

For edible seaweeds, developing countries are best suited to process seaweeds for their own local markets which are often for coastal people who have consumed seaweeds over a long period of time. The cost of producing large quantities of edible seaweeds for export is high and the risk is also high because of the difficulty of breaking into the larger Asian markets.