Seaweed cultivation can be Goa’s gold mine

[India] With an abundance of seaweeds found along the coastline, Goa may soon find seaweed to be its most lucrative marine resource, earning foreign exchange and generating employment.

With an alternative source of income for overfished coastal communities, where farmland is degraded and increasingly scarce, the coastal population can show that perhaps it is time to take farming to the sea.

Harvested by coastal populations for centuries, seaweeds have played an important role in the economy of a number of countries by generating revenue and employment. Asia stands as the world leader in seaweed cultivation and more than 80 per cent is contributed by China, Korea and Japan. In China alone, seaweed is a 16 billion dollar-a-year industry.

“India has not taken up seaweed cultivation on a large scale. We have plenty of seaweed resource but it is just not being used. Though Goa is bestowed with a coastline of over 105 kilometres, embracing over 100 types of seaweed species, due to the lack of awareness neither the government nor people have exploited seaweed resources commercially,” said former NIO scientist Dr A G Untawale, who has done an extensive research on the commercialisation of seaweeds.

Seaweed has many industrial uses and a high export value, as it is a good source of food, feed and medicine. Brown algae yield a gummy substance called algin and red algae produce jelly-like substances called agar and carrageenan. These substances are used as additives in food products and drugs to give them a smooth texture and help them retain moisture. They are also used in lipsticks, soaps, film, paint, varnish and buttons.

Pointing out at the seaweed resource to be a gold mine, Dr Untawale said that a multi-billion dollar seaweed industry could be exploited by the government or individuals, who are looking to grow seaweed as a business for its multi-functional properties in the form of food, agriculture, health and personal care, cosmetics and chemicals.

Japanese cultivation of Porphyra yields about 4,00,000 wet tonne/year, representing an annual income of $1,500 million. In the Republic of Korea, the cultivation produces 2,70,000 wet tonnes, while China produces 2,10,000 wet tonnes. These countries do the harvesting using nets.

The new market research report by the international Seaweed Industry Association (SIA) provides groundbreaking analysis and insights to help companies drive sales of foods made from seaweed. According to the report, seaweed producers, packaged food manufacturers and restaurants can drive growth by introducing prepared foods made with seaweed.

On the basis of extensive research carried out on marine flora and fauna, former NIO scientist Dr Vinod Dhargalkar made a host of observations in his article that makes a strong case for seaweed consumption. Seaweed contains beneficial proteins, antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, trace elements, dietary fibre and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

According to his finding, the green seaweeds Enteromorpha, Ulva, Caulerpa and Codium are utilised exclusively as a source of food. These are often eaten as fresh salads or cooked as vegetables along with rice in Japan and China. Adding seaweed to foods can help reduce cardiovascular diseases, the number one cause of premature deaths worldwide.

Despite being aware about seaweed being the cheapest source of food supplement for fish, farm animals and natural growth of plants, departments like animal husbandry, fisheries and agriculture have never tried to make an attempt to utilise such resources.

The NIO research that led to a discovery of organic seaweed liquid fertilizer, extracted out of seaweed that contains a sufficient amount of oceanic bio-active matter important for plant growth, could prove to be a great boon to push organic farming in the state. The agriculture department has said that it is ready to adopt such technology if it is recommended by ICAR, an agriculture research organisation.

Foraged from the rock cliffs and shallow waters, seaweed is also the best source for producing green fuel. India today makes most of its biofuel from food crops such as corn and sugarcane. Lack of land and water resources also has dimmed the prospects for green fuel.


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