India bets big on Superweed
−− Used for medicine, fertilizer, animal feed and food, seaweed can transform farming along India’s coastal belt and improve livelihood and create jobs.
Feb. 4, 2021
After successful pilot projects, India has decided to go in for largescale cultivation of 60 varieties of seaweeds or macroalgae, which have multiple commercial applications in medicine, fertilizer, animal feed and food, being a rich source of amino acid and several micronutrients.
India’s plans are to raise seaweed production from the current level of about 20,000 tonnes, valued at around $500 million (Rs 50 crore) to 11.2 lakh tonnes by 2025. Besides meeting industry needs and reducing import dependency, the new project, which has been launched in several coastal states, holds the potential to provide employment to 6-7 lakh people, particularly women, delegates at an international webinar on Entrepreneurship Development on “Seaweed Business by Cooperatives” held on Thursday (January 28) were informed.
Sundeep Nayak, managing director, National Co-operative Development Corporation, said that the government is very serious about the promotion of seaweed cultivation as it holds tremendous business potential. Besides, it has the potential to transform farming along India’s coastal belt and improve livelihood and create jobs.
Globally, seaweed production has been growing rapidly given its application in a range of industries including pharmaceutical and nutraceuticals. It has become the fastest-growing sector of food production with 9 per cent annual growth rate. The world seaweed production is currently valued around $ 12 billion and is expected to reach $ 26 billion by 2026, Nayak said.
To put the project on the roll, the government has already allocated Rs 637 crore for the cultivation of these nutrition-rich marine plants, as part of the Rs 20,050-crore Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY). The funds, to be utilised over the next five years, will be used mainly to provide subsidy support. Intensive efforts will be made by the implementing agencies to prioritize formation and promotion of Forest and Farm Producer Organizations (FFPOs), support cooperatives and women SHG’s in identified coastal areas, under the scheme, said Dr Rajeev Ranjan, secretary, department of fisheries and chief guest of the webinar.
Each coastal state/UT along the costal has been asked to identify four entrepreneurs and support them with technical and financial sources while multiple number of seaweed banks would be created in the coming years for key species. Seaweed parks are proposed to be established in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat after feasibility studies, while Lakshadweep will be developed as a centre for the development of seaweed.
Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute and National Institute of Ocean Technology will be providing technical knowhow and guidance for the projects to be undertaken. This would include mapping of potential sites and cultivation will be promoted for native seaweed species like Gracilaria dura, G.edulis, Gelidiella Acerosa, Sargassum Wightii, etc.
Dr Ranjan said around 844 species of seaweeds have been reported from Indian seas. Their standing stock is estimated to be about 58,715 tonnes (wet weight). Among them, 221 species are commercially important and abundant along the Tamil Nadu and Gujarat coasts and around Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
In his presentation, on “Seaweed Cultivation and Value Chain Development in India”, Ranjan gave details about the action plan and strategy prepared by the Government to take up the seaweed cultivation on a Mission mode to make a dent in the global seaweed business which is dominated by China, Japan and Indonesia, the three nations holding 80 per cent of the total global trade. Japanese kelp, Eucheuma and Gracilaria are the top species. Together, they constitute about 70 per cent of the production. Most traded commodities are the lever, agar-agar, red seaweeds and Undaria pinnafitida (brown algae).
Ranjan said matter concerning the restriction on the cultivation of Kappaphycus species and introduction of exotic germplasms will be addressed on a priority basis in consultation with Union environment ministry and coastal state governments and Union Territories.
Women of the coastal communities are expected to be the biggest beneficiaries of the government plan as seaweed farming crops, grown in shallow and gentle seashores, get ready in 45 days and fetch good price both in India and overseas.
Manoj Joshi, additional secretary of the ministry of food and processing industry, stressed the need for initially focusing on a few clusters to ensure convergence of the schemes before scaling up the production. He said his ministry was all for extending support to the seaweed-based food. In fact, a centrally sponsored PM Formalisation of Micro food processing Enterprises Scheme (PM-FME Scheme) is already in operation for providing financial, technical and business support for the upgrade of existing micro food processing enterprises.
Seaweed farming globally has become an important way for coastal communities to earn income. It provides much-needed nutrition and helps global warming by releasing carbon that would otherwise be locked up on the ocean floor.
Dr Thierry Chopin, professor of marine biology, University of New Brunswick, Canada, shared how seaweeds, a key component of Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA), are providing important ecosystem services, which should be valued.
Stating that “sea-weeds are more than seafood”, Chopin suggested that the value of the ecosystem services provided by the extractive components of IMTA systems will have to be recognized, accounted for and used as financial and regulatory incentive tools such as nutrient trading credits (NTC) than with carbon trading credits (CTC). For instance, he said, nitrogen trading credits are priced between $1.134 and 3.401 billion, phosphorus trading credits $51.82 million, while carbon trading credits fetch just $29.15 million.
Dr Blossom Kochhar, chair, Blossom Kochhar Group, India, dwelled in detail about the seaweeds usage in the cosmetics industry and their benefits, and opportunities in skincare products, including moisturizer, anti-ageing, antioxidant, skin repair and regeneration, cleanser products.
Abhiram Seth, Aqua Agri, India, which works with more than 600 fisherfolk in the restricted districts of Tamil Nadu and cultivates at least 600-800 tonnes of seaweed per year, disclosed how his company has branched out to various range of products from producing carrageenan, which is a binding, food thickening and gelling agent for the food industry to producing bio-stimulants. He claimed that these can improve crop yield by 20 per cent.
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