Many take plunge for exportable PHL seaweeds (Feature)
June 3, 2013 10:58 pm
By Honor Blanco Cabie
MANILA, June 3 (PNA) - The export of seaweeds, variously called in the regions of the Philippines as ar-arusip, pokpoklo, or-ormot, aragan, gamet, kulot, lato or halamang dagat, continues to look bright despite falling behind Indonesia in production levels.
Since 1966, when the seaweed industry began in this Southeast Asian archipelago, research scientists have said more hectarage of shallow ocean reefs had been used to cultivate Eucheuma, particularly in Mindanao, fondly dubbed the Land of Promise and now referred to as the Land of Fulfillment.
It was considered a major breakthrough in agriculture technology at that time, and financial grants for research projects started to lap the countrys shoreline for what was then considered a sunshine industry.
The grants were coming in from both foreign and local sources, including, but not limited to, the US Sea Grant Office, Marine Colloids, Inc. and the Philippine Council for Agricultural Research and Development.
This led to the development of more field experiments on the cultivation of Eucheuma, according to marine scientists involved in research in the seaweed industry.
The industry in this country, sandwiched by the vast Pacific and the South China Sea, includes other marine algal species, long considered as food by Ivatans, Ilocanos, Pangasinenses, Kapampangans, Tagalogs, Bikolnons, Visayans, Maguindanaons, Maranaos, Samas and Tausugs, among others.
The seaweeds include the grape-looking Caulerpa, the horse hair-like Gracilaria and a green noodle like Codium, all being sold in the local markets.
Some of these resemble the so-called pokpoklo of northern Philippines, an absolute winner among residents in blazing summer when seafoods are an abundant delicacy on many dining tables.
But the markets for these seaweeds, like vegetables, are very limited and only those who are familiar with the seaweeds occasionally buy them, according to some researchers.
Dr. Claro Santiago, a science research specialist, once said there is a growing demand for seaweeds colloids in the Philippines, with its seemingly inexhaustible supply of natural seaweeds, which can be a potential supplier.
However, appropriate technical requirements and technologies for the manufacture of seaweeds colloids are closely guarded by the worlds manufacturers, especially in the highly industrialized exporting nations.
In developing countries like the Philippines, the expertise and the cost associated with the production and marketing of colloids present a problem to would-be investors.
In the meanwhile, officials are raising concerns that the Philippines, which had a high 103,000 metric tons of production in 2004, dropped to 84,000 metric tons of raw dried seaweeds production two years ago.
That same year, Indonesia surpassed the Philippine production with its 108,000 metric tons.Both the Philippines and Indonesia produce the red seaweed warm water species Kappaphycus (Cottonii) and Eucheuma (Spinosum), with Cottonii making up over 90 percent of Philippine production, and the bulk of world demand.
There are also cold water species (Chondrus crispus and Gigartina) that grow wild along the coasts of the North Atlantic and Pacific.
The Philippines, known as the world's largest producer of Eucheuma, comprising about 80 per cent of the total world supply, must get itself into the ripple, old industry hands say.
Majority of Eucheuma products, known for their quality, are exported in the processed form comprising about 65 per cent of the total Philippine seaweeds exports.
According to available figures, in 1993 and 1999, the Philippines exported US$ .2 million and US$ .6 million, respectively of seaweeds of all types.
Eucheuma seaweeds and its processed form have been identified one of the 14 export winners of the Philippines. Officials say Mindanao accounts for 71 per cent of the seaweeds production of the entire Philippines.
Estimates in 1996 suggested some 100,000 families were engaged in seaweeds farming and about 72 per cent of these families were in Mindanao, particularly in the ARMM provinces and the Zamboanga Peninsula.
Officials note that Zamboanga City alone has more than 2,000 hectares devoted to the seaweeds farming, providing livelihood to more that 3,000 families.
These are processed in at least three processing plants in the city of flowers, producing semi-refined carrageenan and alkali treated chips.
Processed and dried seaweeds are exported to different international markets, shipped to Cebu or Manila in the dried form for further processing into carrageenan.
Industry chroniclers say in the early days, the Philippines was the leading producer of Eucheuma seaweeds, accounting for 80 per cent of the total world supply.
The Eucheuma species serves as a raw material in the manufacture of carrageenan.
According to official sources, the Philippines has an estimated 8,300 hectares of marine areas that have potential for Eucheuma seaweeds farming.
About 96 per cent of these areas are in Mindanao. Zamboanga Peninsula and Sulu have been found to have the widest seaweeds farming area with farming expansion of more that 7,000 hectares of potential sites. Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Western Mindanao have a decided advantage over other potential areas.
In value terms, the seaweeds industry hit the billion mark in the early 1990s and continued at the same pace, registering an average growth of 4.73 per cent for 1993-1997.
From P1.1989 billion in 1993, the industry grew to P1.623 billion in 1996 slightly tapering to P1.395 billion in 1997, no thanks to the erratic El Niño phenomenon that hit the production areas which precipitated the drop in production.
This production loss and the loss in value of the peso owing to the Asean financial crisis were responsible for the 14 per cent decrease in the value of seaweeds.(PNA)