Mindanao Seaweed Exports Increase, Yet Production Drops
Zamboanga City — Mindanao’s seaweed exports have almost doubled in 2008, hut the region can ‘t afford to slacken its efforts, for it might put the long-term competitiveness of the seaweed sector at risk, industry, leaders say.
From January to October 2008, exports of processed seaweeds from this port city reached 5,085 metric tons (MT) valued at US$12.6 million. This is a 92 percent increase in volume and 114 percent increase in value over exports for the same period in 2007, according to the Bureau of Customs.
However, shortage of raw seaweeds has surged due to seaweed processing, and this has driven up the price of eucheuma seaweed- it has since dropped sharply due to global financial downturn- to as high as US$2,900 per MT in September 2008.
Eucheuma and kappaphycus seaweed varieties, which are grown in the Philippines, are used for the production of carrageenan, a thickening and stabilizing agent used worldwide in many processed foods and in products such as toothpaste, shampoo, paints, and pharmaceuticals.
The country produces most of the world’s carrageenan in 14 processing plants located in Cebu, Southern Luzon, and Zamboanga. And the top regional supplier of raw materials for these plants is Mindanao, which produces 75 percent of the country’s eucheuma and kappaphycus seaweeds, which mostly come from Zamboanga peninsula and Sulu archipelago.
The country’s processing plants alone need a minimum of 134,000 MT of raA dried seaweed annually, yet the total Philippine seaweed output decreased from 95,600 MT in 2004 to 74,650 MT in 2007 due to weather conditions. rising energy and transport costs, and other factors.
Moreover, seaweed growers in Mindanao are being competed by Indonesia, which has larger growing areas and lower production cost, and has produced 100,000 MT of seaweed in 2008. Several carrageenan processors have already increased their seaweed imports from Indonesia, according to Hadji Adam Omar, chairman of the Western Mindanao Seaweed Industry% Development Foundation.
“If carrageenan processors can’t depend on a steady supply of raw material produced locally, they may relocate to other countries,” Omar added.
To ensure the sustainability of the industry, Mindanao’s seaweed sector needs to ensure adequate yield, develop more cost-effective farming technologies, and increase investments. according to USAID’s Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program. which provides technical assistance to help strengthen the competitiveness of the seaweed industry.
Omar and other traders noted that seaweed production along Zamboanga peninsula and the Sulu archipelago had been particularly robust throughout 2008. He said that this was due to the propagation of high-yielding, fast-growing seaweed cultivars distributed in late 2007 from nurseries established through partnerships between GEM Program, Mindanao State University Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga State College of Science and Technology, Kasanyangan Nursery and Seaweed Enterprise. and the International Finance Corporation.