Fishers are becoming increasingly interested in seaweeds farming by using local materials in a simple and low-cost manner. Indeed, seaweeds farming has emerged as a ray of hope for the fishing community of Cox's Bazar.
Experts believe that seaweeds cultivation could be one of the alternative sources of income for fishers in the near future. It is the most rapidly expanding component of global food production. Seaweeds farming helps conserve biodiversity while providing opportunities for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Seaweeds is a type of aquatic algae that grows naturally in the salty water of the sea. Seaweeds are being recognized as an important marine resource around the world due to their versatile use. It is used in various bio-chemical raw materials like food and foodstuffs, pigments, enzymes, agar, medicine, and so on.
It does not need to be fed any artificial food or fertilization. Since it grows rapidly, the cultivated seaweeds can be harvested for sale in 2-3 weeks. Seaweeds grow well at a water temperature of 25–30 °C and a salinity of 15–26 ppt. There is a lot of potential for seaweeds farming along the coastal regions of Bangladesh.
Around 200 species of seaweeds can be found along the coasts of the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh. Ten of these have been identified as commercially important. Grow in the coastal areas of Cox's Bazar: the edible green genus Caulerpa, Ulva, Enteromorpha, the red genus Hypnea, Gracilaria, Gelidium, and the brown genus Sargassum. The ideal season for seaweeds farming in Bangladesh's marine waters is from mid-October to mid-April.
The USAID funded ECOFISH II activity of WorldFish Bangladesh, in collaboration with Chattogram Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (CVASU) and Falcon International Limited. They have involved men, women, and youths from the local fishing communities of Cox's Bazar in seaweeds farming to help them earn additional income for their families.
According to a press release, ECOFISH II has provided training and necessary farming materials to the beneficiaries of Cox's Bazar Sadar, Ukhiya, Teknaf, Moheshkhali, and Ramu Upazilas. The red seaweeds (Gracilaria) and green seaweed (Enteromorpha and Ulva) have been considered for seaweeds farming.
In 2021, the project selected 200 fishermen and women and provided training in seaweeds farming techniques, harvesting, processing, and marketing. At the end of December, 9,350 kg (wet weight) of seaweeds were harvested.
The off-bottom net and the long line method are commonly used by farmers on the Cox's Bazar coast to cultivate seaweeds. Recently, the beneficiaries of ECOFISH-II activity have had tremendous success in seaweeds production using the newly introduced floating raft long line and net method. Beneficiaries harvested a significant quantity of seaweeds using floating raft systems for the first time in Bangladesh.
Seaweeds seedlings can be harvested within 15 days of being tied to a rope or net and kept in a favorable environment at sea. Collected seaweeds can be sold raw or dried in both domestic and international markets. Usually, 7/8 kg of raw seaweeds is needed to produce 1 kg of dried seaweeds, but the proportions may differ depending on the species.
Dr. Asaduzzaman, Associate Professor, CVASU, Bangladesh and a prominent seaweeds researcher, said: "It is rich in iodine, vitamins, minerals, disease-resistant antioxidants, etc. In addition to feeding various aquatic animals and ponies, seaweed also serves as a harbor for fish juveniles and marine life, helping preserve marine biodiversity. Seaweeds also absorbed carbon dioxide from seawater, which "helps in reducing global warming and over-fertility of the oceans by absorbing excess nutrients," he added.
Omar Hassan, proprietor of Falcon International Ltd., who is involved in the marketing of seaweeds, said, "Seaweed farming is very profitable. It costs about TK 4,000 to build a 15m x 5m piece of land using the off-bottom long line method and TK 8,000 to build a 20m x 3m floating raft using the long-line method.
In the most favorable environment, on average, about 400 kg and 800 kg of raw seaweeds can be produced per plot annually, with a wholesale market value of about TK 12,000 and TK 24,000 from the off-bottom long-line and floating raft long-line methods, respectively. "The immense potential of seaweeds farming in Bangladesh should be utilized," he added.
According to GM Insights, the global market value of seaweeds could exceed $85 billion by 2026. Although around 80% of the seaweeds is produced globally in Asia, Bangladesh annually produces just over 600 tons of natural and aquaculture sources at present.
Research conducted by Chattogram University & Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated the annual seaweeds utilization in the human food, feed, manure, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical industries in Bangladesh at 47,775 kg, 11,700 kg, 13,650 kg, and 24,375 kg, respectively. The research said that these could potentially contribute Tk 55.87 million to the blue economy of Bangladesh in the near future.
In this context, Md. Abdul Wahab, Team Leader of the ECOFISH II activity, said, "We have involved fishers, both men and women, in seaweed farming as a blue economy initiative for alternative employment generation in the poor fishing community." In the coming days, we are going to take various steps to scale out seaweeds cultivation and promote the promotion of diversified seaweeds products. There is a plan to organize a "Seaweeds Food Festival" in Cox's Bazar in early 2022, he added.
The coastal fishing community has already started to harness the benefits of the cultivation of seaweeds. One of them is Anwara Begum, a resident of Nuniarchora in Cox's Bazar Sadar. She said, "Apart from other income-generating activities, I earned about TK 80,000 by farming and selling seaweeds last year in 2021."
Properly planned and commercially grown seaweed can play an important role in Bangladesh's economy, we should emphasized the need to popularize seaweeds food, consider seaweeds as a potential economic crop in the blue economy initiative, including its widespread use in the pharmaceutical, food, animal feed, and fertilizer industries, and increase its exports to overseas markets.