‘Seaweed sector still reeling’

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014


SIX months after super typhoon Yolanda devastated Eastern Samar, the country's seaweed industry is still reeling from the effects of the destructive typhoon, a top official of a seaweed organization said.

“The continuing rehabilitation of seaweed farms damaged by the typhoons is a big concern...Cebu and Bohol Provinces have been given about P30 million each by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) but no development has been reported yet,” said Max Ricohermoso, chairman of the Seaweed Industry Association of the Philippines (Siap) in an e-mail to Sun.Star Cebu.

Hermoso said Yolanda damaged about one-third of the country's eucheuma seaweed supply from eastern Samar and Palawan.

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He said the damage ranged from P1.6 billion to P2.8 billion and involved about 6,400 hectares of seaweed plantations.

Other typhoons

Typhoons Agaton and Basyang, which came soon after Yolanda, also contributed to the destruction. The weather disturbances destroyed seaweed farms in the Danajon Reef, where most of the country’s supply of eucheuma spinosum species comes from.

Seaweed production fell 11 percent in 2013 from the previous year’s aggregate annual production of 1.75 million metric tons (MT) due to the onslaught of typhoons Wilma and Yolanda, industry reports said.

While most processors and exporters had some inventories from earlier harvest, Ricohermoso noted that other players had to resort to importation of raw dried seaweeds from Indonesia.

Seaweed prices also increased following the disruption in production.

“Gate prices of Eucheuma cottonnii increased by almost 70 percent while the price for eucheuma spinosum variety doubled because the Danajon reef (supply) was almost wiped out,” said Ricohermoso.

Prospect

“The first quarter of 2014 was still within target but the second quarter is reeling hard due to lack of eucheuma spinosum supply,” he added.

Although, there is bright prospect with the eucheuma cottonnii harvest from Sitangkai in Tawi-Tawi, Ricohermoso pointed out “there is presently a dearth of shipping capacity in the area.”

He said only about two thirds of the 20,000 bags produced weekly by Sitangkai could be accommodated.

Cottonii and spinosum are varieties of seaweed from which carageenan, a gelatinous substance used in food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, is derived.

Industry players also raised concerns over the high cost of inter-island shipping.

Ricohermoso said that it is cheaper to ship from Cebu to Korea or Europe than from Tawi-Tawi to Cebu or Manila.

Intervention

Other than rehabilitation of seaweed farms, industry players need intervention from the government in terms of increasing seaweed production by at least 30 million MT annually to avoid importations.

The government also needs to boost financing for seaweed growers.

“Financing for seaweed growers is virtually non-existent even though Jica (Japan International Cooperation Agency) provided the Land Bank of the Philippines some P7 billion for agri-lending,” Ricohermoso said. “Similar financing program is necessary to refurbish and upgrade old seaweed processing plants. It is reported that in Indonesia, the government encourages local processors by investing up to 50 percent in new seaweed processing plants.”

The BFAR reportedly vowed to intensify its national seaweed program by establishing 66 seaweed nurseries across the country. It also plans to expand production in the Philippine eastern seaboard, which is a non-traditional seaweed production area.

Among the major markets for Philippine seaweed products are US, China and France.

Siap said that by 2016, the seaweed industry cluster is expected to record domestic and export sales of $14 million to $394 million, respectively, by tapping new markets in Asia, South America and Africa for quality seaweed-based products like raw dried seaweed, carrageenan and agar.

The Philippines has 14 active seaweed processing firms. More than 50 percent of the country’s national seaweed output comes from Mindanao. Zamboanga exports most of dried seaweeds while Cebu dominates the processing and exporting of carrageenan.

Amid the challenges, Ricohermoso said the players are prepared for the regional integration. He said the Philippines is the focal point of the seaweed industry in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 15, 2014.

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