STA. CRUZ, Davao de Sur -- Seaweed production here is expected to increase fisherfolk income with the government's livelihood-assisted project.

The town is renowned for being a major producer of seaweeds in Davao region. The commodity is also a source of livelihood to at least 372 small fishers.

The Bato Seaweeds Association Inc. (Baseas), a group of seaweed farmers here, has received P6.2 million to fund its seaweed farming and processing project.

The bulk of the said amount came from the Mindanao Rural Development Program (MRDP), while the Provincial Government provided P1 million as its counterpart fund. The Baseas raised P1.2 million as its corresponding equity.

MRDP is a special project of the Department of Agriculture (DA). Through its Community Fund for Agricultural Development, various people's organizations were able to access funds and enhance livelihood projects into agribusiness enterprises.

Baseas president Victor Relator said that with the funding assistance, their association has established a five-hectare seaweed production farm and put up a processing warehouse and drying facility.

"The processing warehouse includes a drier where members can dry their seaweeds not only from the Baseas' five-hectare farm but also from their own individual farms," Relator said.

Members were also given 67 non-motorized bancas for planting and harvesting of seaweeds. To haul farm inputs and huge volume of harvested seaweeds, a flat-bottom up pump boat was also provided including a hauling truck which delivers their products in the market.

He said warehouse and drying facility is a big help in improving the income of small fishers as dried seaweed is sold at least P30 a kilo while fresh seaweeds is only sold at P7 per kilo.

The association has also developed a foliar fertilizer, a value-adding product made out of the dried seaweeds extract, and sells it at P1,000 per container.

"Before, we have to spend our money out of our meager income from fishing to buy materials and inputs for replanting. With the MRDP's assistance our association can now provide us initial capital for seaweed replanting," said Baseas member Julito Toto.

"The provision of banca is also a big help as I can now regularly monitor my seaweed farm and check if they are not washed out by strong winds and waves," he said.

Toto maintains around 20 lines (at eight meters per line) of seaweeds. After 25 days of planting, he said he starts harvesting at least 300 kilos a month.

Miguella Edquilla, MRDP regional deputy coordinator in DA Davao, said the association seaweed project has a huge potential to expand not only in production but also in processing.

She said Baseas has a big chance to be part of the upcoming PRDP as seaweed is one of the identified national priority commodity of the program.

An upscale version of MRDP, the PRDP will be a six-year national government platform for an inclusive, value-chain oriented and climate change resilient agriculture and fisheries. (Noel T. Provido/DA-MRDP)