Seaweed farming has often been championed as the alternative income stream to save the coral reef fisheries crisis in Southeast Asia, as they are used to produce hydrocolloids such as agar, which are common ingredients in industries including food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. However, inequalities in the global hydrocolloid supply chain mean the income to farmers from selling raw material to middlemen is minimal. At the same time, providing alternative income as a means of reducing local fishing pressure can only work if an alternative food supply is also provided to maintain local food security in light of reduced catches.
As part of a Darwin Initiative funded project, the Wallacea Trust developed a novel method of producing valuable carrageenan from Indonesian farmed seaweed. Importantly, our method can be carried out locally, removing the reliance on large city-based processing plants, and thus allowing raw seaweed to be sold at factory-gate rather than farm-gate prices. By tweaking the process, our method also produces a single by-product rich in macro- and micronutrients; a perfect combination to significantly increase local agricultural yields.
Our seaweed processing method has been fully tested at the laboratory scale, and the Wallacea Trust now plans to construct a small pilot plant in Indonesia to scale-up the process to commercial levels. Once complete, we aim to develop a series of full-scale operational plants, managed as private investments but linked to a shareholding scheme offering dividend payments to seaweed farmers in return for environmentally sourced raw material, and to local fishers in return for surrendering their fising license. By providing waste product free-of-charge to local subsistence farmers, agrigultural output can support local food security in the long term.