All about Seaweed: The Unknown Facets of its potential, recent trends, products and profits

Did we not know that almost everything or the other in Market contains matter sourced from Seaweed?

Seaweeds extracts Carrageenan, Alginates and Agar that finds constant usage in many products as they exhibit emulsifying and thickening effects, are all derived from Red & Brown Seaweeds or algae extracts because of their fulfilling vitamin and mineral properties.

Almost 40% of hydrocolloid or phycocolloid food ingredients are the seaweed extracts around the World due to its strong binding to food proteins.

Seaweed has around 221 known species to be used commercially. Of these, about 145 species are used for food and 110 species for phycocolloids production.

Seaweed derivatives are everywhere:

Shampoo, make-up products, Dog food, Gelatin, Bio-aesthetics, yoghurt, toothpaste, cleansers, even Cottage cheese has the ilks of these components in it.

Seaweed derivatives used by Loreal

The lesser known but commonly referred brands which contain seaweed entities include Starbucks Coffee, Loreal, Pedigree, Estee Lauder and even The Body Shop.

Carrageenan finds its usage in drug delivery.

Agar is for the cosmetics and growth mediums.

Alginates are used in wound dressings. They have the tendency to absorb many times their own weight of water with great Viscosity, can readily form gels and are non-toxic.

This accounts for countless uses in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, cosmetic creams, paper and cardboard, and processed foods.

Brown Seaweed can yield Chemicals like alginic acid, mannitol, laminarin, fucoidin, iodine etc.

What is a Seaweed and Is Seaweed Cultivation new?

It is a Macroalgae and can be classified as red, brown, or green. They do come in an array of shapes, including broad leaves redolent of terrestrial plants, wispy tentacles, and bulbous, fruit-like growths.

Some species embed in the ocean floor, while others float freely.

According to Food and Agriculture Organisation 2018 report, Seaweed is a super rich source of nutrients such as sodium, calcium, iodine, zinc, and vitamin B-12.

Although Seaweed farming inculcates a new Life in Coastal areas, People in China, Japan, and South Korea have been associated with its cultivation for food and other uses since ages.
Seaweed derivatives are put to use in textile ink for almost 1,000 years.

During the times Ireland faced Potato famine severely, people searched for alternatives and supplemented their diets with then discovered seaweed known as red algae.

Seaweed was already a multibillion-dollar industry when it found its presence in India.

How it is cultivated:

It’s a growing art providing a source of income and livelihood in at least 35 countries.

The macroalgae is extremely productive.
The harvest gets ready in just 6 weeks, shorter than almost any staple crop.

Agar yielding Red seaweeds such as Gelidiella acerosa and Gracilaria sp. can be harvested throughout the year while Algin producing Brown algae such as Sargassum and Turbinaria are collected seasonally from August to January on Southern coast.

Additionally, it requires only simple technology to farm. It can be grown on underwater lines staked near the ocean shore and dry it on mats, sand, or grass.

Its not a complicated task or the one requiring too many inputs though Wild Seaweed is grown under intensive care and supervision as it has the risk of contamination by heavy metals such as Arsenic and Mercury.

This leaves only Chile, China and Norway to cultivate it.

Pros of Seaweed farming:

1. Ease of cultivation, requires exploitation of an available farming.

2. Natural form of farming, without the use of chemicals or inorganic inputs.

3. Increasing demand for organic or bio-affiliated products.

4. Important in tackling the paucity of nutrients in ever increasing World population and fighting Malnutrition.

5. Alternate source of livelihood for vulnerable Coastal Communities.

Economics emerging from Seaweed:

About 100,000 tonnes of seaweed-derived hydrocolloids are produced each year at a remarkable value of more than $1 billion, as stated by Dennis Seisun(President of IMR International, a research firm).

“There’s an employment factor that is hundreds of times more valuable than some of these other products that are mechanized and automated—products like synthetic cellulose derivatives”.

To No surprise, the seaweed industry churns out 12 million metric tons per year, valued at more than $6 billion.

It is projected to hit a staggering $26 billion globally by 2025.

Eighty-five percent of this proportion is for human consumption other than textiles and stuff.

Hence drawing conclusion around the media reports, seaweed cultivators living near the coastline can earn up to ₹  2000 crores a year.

With the input costs being almost negligible, Dried seaweed presently earns up to Rs 86,000 per year per raft.

A productive family engaged in it can create 40 rafts in a year. That could give a family Rs.34 lakh annually!

A Story from India’s waters in Tamil Nadu:

Abhiram Sethi alongside PepsiCo has provided a sustainable source of income for coastal communities in Tamil Nadu.

His company engages with more than 600 fisherfolk in the restricted districts of Tamil Nadu cultivating at least 600-800 tonnes of seaweed per year.

Side by side, He uses Seaweed as biostimulant in Fields thereby increasing land productivity by 20%, which are organic, safe and sustainable.

He says: “With just three hours of work a day, a coastal farmer can earn Rs 700-800 a day with a 3×3 m raft.

Unfortunately, for a benign activity like this, the environment ministry has a different point of view. So the cultivation is restricted to certain districts in Tamil Nadu.”

“A fixed price prevents any market risks for the grower. They are entrepreneurs who work as per their flexibility and deliver products for a fixed price.

This ensures that they are not forced to migrate to cities for employment, as they can earn a comfortable livelihood in their current situation.”

Newly Emerging uses of Seaweed?

Green and Sustainable:
At times, all we need is to trust our Researchers and they may hold for us, is amazing.
Seaweed can be made to serve as a feedstock for Biogas. A few microbes can release such gas as they eat up or break down seaweed in the absence of oxygen.

If a species of macroalgae with just the apt proportions of lipids and carbohydrates can be grown sustainably, the resulting biogas has the potential to serve as an alternative energy form to fossil fuels and land-based biofuels.

Life-saving Applications:
New studies are claiming Seaweed benefits in treating diseases like Cancer, HIV, goitre, in Cardiovascular Surgery.

As a Fertiliser:
New prospects include using the seaweed for synthesising liquid fertiliser which can potentially boost crop productivity by around 40%.

India is now walking on the path to utilise its long forgotten 7,500kms coastline, barely put to life neglecting a huge resource base that survives in our waters.

India and serene Seaweed potential

Land and water are both scarce resources and should be used judiciously. But the sea is Infinite.