THE onslaught of El Niño has caused seaweed production in the country to drop by 15 percent in the first two months of the year.
Seaweed Industry Association of the Philippines (SIAP) Executive Director Yuri Y. Yap said that wet seaweed production in January and February amounted to between 80,000 metric tons (MT) and 85,000 MT each month, lower than the average 100,000 MT monthly production in previous years.
“Our target is to increase by 15 percent annually nationwide. It’s part of the national seaweed roadmap. With this El Niño that we have, it’s hard to reach the target,” Yap said.
Seaweed thrives only in normal temperatures and is hard to grow in a cold or hot aquatic environment, said Yap. But asside from natural causes, the SIAP executive director also took note of the low international demand.
“The market demand is quite low. Local (demand) remains stable, but internationally, we have experienced a low market since last quarter (2015),” he said.
One reason for this is the “high inventory” among international buyers, particularly for carrageenan, one of the processed products made out of seaweed. Yap said that buyers, mostly from United States and Europe, could have purchased this product in bulk last year, which slowed down the demand this quarter.
Second, international buyers have found alternatives for carrageenan.
“When the price of seaweed went to as high as P120 per kilo (in 2008), some users decided to look for replacements because carrageenan was quite expensive. They looked for a replacement ingredient, which until now they could be using,” Yap said. One of the replacements could be starch.
Carrageenan is a compound extracted from red seaweed that is added to improve the texture and mouth feel of food. It serves as an additive to chocolate milk, yogurt, ice cream, soy milk, almond milk, deli meats, and meal replacement shakes.
Presently, carrageenan commands a price of $6 to $8 per kilo. Previously, it reached as high as $9 per kilo, according to Yap.
The Philippines remains the world’s top producer of processed seaweeds. However, it is Indonesia that has supplied the largest volume of raw seaweed in the world since 2006. Previously, it was the Philippines.
The SIAP official also called for cleaner water.
“Seaweed can thrive only in clean water, so we are really for a cleaner environment,” Yap said. Seaweed is abundant in Bohol and in Zamboanga peninsula. In Cebu, they are most abundant in the northern part like Bantayan.
On Saturday, Filipinos took part in Earth Hour, when buildings, establishments, and homes went dark from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The Earth Hour initiated by the World Wide Fund for Nature since 2007 is a global movement that emphasizes the need for a low-carbon future as a means to address climate change.