Seaweed is a good example of how Food for the Future is searching for relevant products to feed the global population in the future taking into account the challenges in the current food system. There are numerous possible applications of seaweed, not only within the food industry. Seaweed can, among other things, be used to make fertiliser, fuel, resource for synthetics, cosmetics, textiles, and binding agents. It is not surprising that the expectation is that demand for seaweed will increase in the next decade.
Seaweed can be of added value to our diet due to its high nutritional value and health benefits: high amount of protein, vitamins, minerals, trace elements, ballast substances and iron (sometimes up to 25 times higher values than meat). Seaweed is also a healthy substitute for salt and gelatin (binding agent).
Currently, the seaweed supply chain is not very transparent and there are a number of unanswered questions. What are the benefits of globally versus locally grown seaweed? What is the environmental effect and nutritional value? What applications are there in terms of nutrition and protein extraction, etc.?
Potential in Indonesia
As a result of these questions, the project has choosen to undertake further research on the basis of setting up pilot chains in Indonesia. The seas are relatively unknown expanses with an enormous potential for food production. Especially in light of the doubts over whether there will be enough land for food production by 2050 based on the current availability of land. This explains the recent increasing interest in the potential benefits and application of seaweed for human consumption.
Indonesia was chosen as it is currently already one of the major producers of seaweed in the world and still has an enormous potential for growth. Moreover, Indonesia is the biggest global exporter of the binding agent agar (vegetable alternative to gelatin) and carrageenan (binding agent and stabiliser known as E407). Most seaweed production is done by small-scale farmers for the local market. Often, these producers are among the poorest of the population. As such, seaweed production offers opportunities for job and income creation for fishing communities.
Most producers sell their production at low prices to intermediaries who pocket a large part of the profits when they resell to exporters or local handlers. Little to nothing of the added value ends up with the producer.
Innovation in production and processing
The partners of Food for the Future have made it their goal to contribute to the further innovation of the production and processing of seaweed. There is a need for productivity profit of seaweed farmers and increased quality, which will lead to better availability of high-quality seaweed for both local and international markets. This will benefit both the producer and the consumer. There will be a strong focus on including women in the production and manufacturing process of seaweed. This commitment is in line with the priorities of the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) that considers seaweed one of the crops that needs to be invested in in the coming years in terms of sustainability and the economic potential.
There is currently a lot of uncertainty with respect to the sustainability and feasibility of a seaweed chain from Indonesia to Europe. In a first phase of the project, it is important to study these elements together with local international partners.
Bourgougnon, N. (2014). Advances in botanical research: sea plants. Academic Press.
Switzerland Global Enterprise. (2015). Carrageenan and agair: Indonesia, beyond the land of corronii and aracilaria. Switzerland Global Enterprise.
Zeewierwijzer. (sd). Opgehaald van Zeewierwijzer: http://www.zeewierwijzer.nl/