SEAWEED FARMING TO BE PART OF THE BLUE ECONOMY
WITH RENEWED EFFORT AND THE BUDGET ALLOCATION, THE MINISTRY AIMS TO ACHIEVE 100 METRIC TONNES FOR THE FINANCIAL YEAR 2021-2022 AND GRADUALLY INCREASE THE TONNAGE BY 2024 TO 200 METRIC TONNES WITH A VALUE OF $300,000 AT CURRENT MARKET PRICES.
Billions of people worldwide rely on healthy oceans as a source of livelihood and food security. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that around 60 million people are directly employed in fishing and fish-farming, with the majority employed by the capture fisheries sub-sector working in small-scale operations in developing countries. The United Nations is actively promoting the blue economy concept which it believes could contribute up to US$1.5 Trillion Dollars to the global economy, and in the process support those who rely on the oceans, while also protecting this extremely important natural resource.
Minister for Economy, Honourable Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum during the national budget address last month announced that Fiji’s sustainable blue economy will be one of the largest and most exciting sectors of the economy in this decade.
“All our seaweed, pearl, crab and prawn farmers already know it. Diving professionals know it. Our ocean –– when managed sustainably –– can host an extremely successful industry for us. It can spawn new businesses, such as fish processing at the community level in maritime regions, the building of nature-based seawalls to protect coastal communities, and conservation-based tourism across our blue economy.”
Acting Permanent Secretary for Fisheries Pene Baleinabuli said that Government’s support towards the blue economy is in the form of its budgetary allocation to the various Government agencies. For the Ministry of Fisheries in particular, its entire budget is premised on promoting the blue economy concept that can support food security, economic growth and the sustainable management of our oceans. Seaweed farming is among the various programmes supported by the budget.
Globally, seaweed farming has proven to be a huge business as improved technologies have accelerated the pace of farming. Seaweed farming is already a massive industry but methods have not changed in decades as it is mostly cultivated by hand in shallow water. Seaweed farming represents an environmentally sustainable livelihood option for coastal communities, especially for the women and youth groups.
Increasing consumption of seaweed
The increasing consumption of seaweed in dietary supplements based on its nutritive content, flavour enhancing, and weight loss properties, represents one of the key factors catalysing the global seaweed market.
Government sees great potential in seaweed farming and is continuing to support the industry through the provision of $150,000 in the new financial year. Through this budget, farmers will be assisted with basic start-up materials, seeds, nursery development and the right technical advice to enable them to reach the required levels of production. The budget will also enable the industry to help secure and maintain a steady market for our farmers thus ensuring that they continue with seaweed farming.
Mr. Baleinabuli said the Ministry sees seaweed farming as an effective strategy to improving livelihoods for the following reasons:
■ Starting a farm is a relatively inexpensive process;
■ The farming methods are relatively simple, requiring no intensive technology;
■ Seaweed farmers enjoy stable cash flow not shared by most seasonal farmers who are often only able to harvest once or twice a year; and
■ Seaweed farming offers steady income and enhanced economic security because it is usually led by women in coastal communities, therefore increasing gender equity and empowering women in their decision making role over spending choices in the family.
Before COVID-19 and the series of cyclones last year, the seaweed programme was on target to harvest 40 metric tons. Now, with the new budget and renewed effort, the Ministry aims to help farmers achieve 100 metric tonnes in this financial year and gradually increase to 200 metric tonnes with a potential value of $300,000 at current market prices.
This is in addition to the value added products facilitated by the private sector, which is estimated to generate over $1 million annually over the next 3-5 years. For seaweed diversification, some value adding activities have been ongoing for some time, but at a small scale. There is now strong interest from the private sector to purchase raw seaweed for organic fertilizer production and other cosmetic products.
The Ministry is currently working with two established companies namely Soluk Fiji Limited and Redox Organics (Sea and Soil). While Soluk buys dried seaweed for export purposes, Redox purchases raw seaweed to process into organic fertilizer and other value added products. Redox has invested in setting up a manufacturing plant for seaweed organic fertilizers.
Redox (Sea and Soil) on the other hand recently received assistance from the Australian Government through their Business Partnerships Platform which will create a vibrant seaweed industry that will directly contribute and improve rural livelihoods in a very sustainable and measurable way.
Mr. Baleinabuli said there is potential for greater economic returns from seaweed farming especially if Fiji were to strengthen downstream processing and value-adding.
“Value adding and product diversification will ensure a steady market and steady farm gate price for our farmers,” he said.
He said the partnership with the private sector and the fishing communities will certainly help build back Fiji’s economy which has been badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The private sector in particular will certainly play an important role in Fiji’s economic recovery and is a vital source of employment. More coastal communities could also venture into seaweed farming with technical support from the Ministry.
With Fiji championing the protection of our oceans, seaweed farming is also important for the provision of ecosystem services as they assist in carbon sequestration and the reduction of contamination in the marine environment contributing to the restoration of sites.
For integrated multi-trophic aquaculture, seaweed farms tend to create a perfect habitat for a number of other marine fauna, including fish. In fact, communities can gain as much, or even more, from the increase in fishery, as they do from the seaweed harvest itself.
Mr. Baleinabuli said that with the increasing demand for seaweed and its by-products, the Ministry aims to support 14 potential sites in the Central, Western and Northern divisions to introduce seaweed farming this year. The Ministry is also ready to offer its services to other communities that are willing to take up seaweed farming and add to the national and global efforts to achieve a sustainable blue economy.