Oman planning commercial seaweed farming to exploit growing global market

Muscat – Oman is planning to start seaweed farming on a commercial scale. Once the area in the sea is allotted, the sultanate will be the first country in the region to exploit the rapidly growing global seaweed farming industry, whose total annual commercial value exceeds… US$5.5bn to US$6bn according to UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Oman Fisheries Company (OFC), the largest fishing company in the country with 24 per cent government stake, in a pioneering effort, plans to start a pilot project.

Mohammed bin Hamad al Masrouri, chairman, OFC, in the latest financial report stated that company has planned to go ahead with the project on the government allocated area in sea.

“The company has initiated viability studies with government for identification of appropriate area. We are in process of completing technical and financial feasibility studies,” he said.

Hugely valuable as food, an industrial raw material and increasingly as a highly active cosmeceutical ingredient, seaweed provides a wide variety of products that have an estimated total annual value of US$5.5 to US$-6bn. Food products with seaweed for human consumption, considered a delicacy in many Asian countries, contribute about US$5bn billion of this. Substances that are extracted from seaweeds – hydrocolloids – account for a large part of the remaining billion dollars, while smaller, miscellaneous uses, such as fertilisers and animal feed additives, make up the rest, according to FAO.

Seaweed farming has expanded rapidly as demand has outstripped the supply available from natural resources. Apart from food, various red and brown seaweeds are used to produce three hydrocolloids – agar, alginate and carrageenan – which provide outstanding functional properties that can be used to control moisture and texture to stabilise food systems.

The colloids are also used in pet and animal food, dairy and bakery products, ice creams, jams, marmalades, dressings and sauces, apart from air fresheners, meat preservatives and cosmetics.

A senior OFC official told Muscat Daily that the company has already hired a consultant to work on the project. “We are just waiting for the government to allot us an area,” he said. The official added that the project was the brainchild of Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MoAF), which had suggested it to the company. “After understanding the commercial viability of the project, the company decided to begin with a pilot project, and intends to start work as soon as an area is allocated to it.”

The official added that company has completed work on two fish processing plants – in Salalah and in Sawqrah, Al Wusta. “With ten metric tonne capacity each, the plants are likely to increase OFC’s processing capacity by 80 per cent and reduce dependence on leased plants,” he said.

 

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