Thursday, June 5, 2014

Catanduanes adopts seaweed as another industry
By Danny O. Calleja

LEGAZPI CITY, June 4 (PNA) – Being the country’s top source of abaca products is not enough for Catanduanes, a Bicol island province surrounded by the waters of Maqueda Bay and Pacific Ocean.

The province now looks at seaweed farming as another industry to work on.

In fact, according to Araceli Wong, the province’s governor, “we have already started with our seaweed farming venture in the municipalities of Bagamanoc, Baras, Gigmoto and Viga using six coastal barangays as pilot areas.”

She said this in a statement released Wednesday to the PNA here by the Provincial Information Management Office (PIMO).

The governor said the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist (OPAg) started the project last April using planting material sourced from the province’s neighboring island-town of Rapu-Rapu in Albay.

At the start of the implementation of the project funded by the provincial government’s 20 percent Economic Development Fund, Wong said, over a hundred of fisher folk who have enlisted their participation were made to undergo training on the latest technologies in seaweed farming conducted by the OPAg.

Industry experts from the Regional Fisheries Research and Development Center (BFRDC) of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) for Bicol based in Pili, Camarines Sur, facilitated the technology transfer.

The provincial government, on the other hand, provided the polyropes which were distributed to fisher folk for use in the establishment of their seaweed farms, Wong said.

Days from now, these coastal dwellers would start reaping the economic benefits of this new venture that the provincial government will be pursuing as it moves toward making the province another major producer of this marine product, she added.

In pilot areas, Wong said, the OPAg used the common variety of seaweed that matures in 45 days after sowing.

“As we go along with the full implementation of this project after assessing the performance of the pilot farms, we will be using more varieties for our expansion and later on full-blast production,” she said.

There are five principal species of seaweed in the country -- Eucheuma, Caulerpa, Sargassum, Gelidiella and Gracilaria -- all with important uses and large market demand.

Eucheuma, which is now the species being cultured by Catanduanes fisher folk, has a number of uses and enjoys the heaviest demand both in the domestic and international markets.

This is the most popular species that makes the Philippines one of the world’s biggest producers of the semi-processed seaweed product called carrageenan whose wonder is very much part of modern-day living.

Food processing firms use it to enhance the quality of certain food products such as poultry, hams, sausages and other meat products.

Its functions as binder, moisture holder and gelling agent have been acclaimed by food processors all over the world.

Sauces, salad dressings and dips require carrageenan to impart body, provide thickness and stabilize emulsions.

Non-food such as beauty care product lines and pharmaceuticals also use carrageenan.

Shampoos have acquired improved foam stability and thickness while lotions and creams have attained a special quality in terms of body, slip, and improved "rub-out" sensation due to this seaweed derivative.

Even in toothpaste, carrageenan is very much at work acting as a binder while improving foam stability in the product.

Wong said Gracilaria will be the next targets of culture under the project because of its importance as source of agar which has been chiefly used as an ingredient in desserts and also as a solid substrate to contain culture media for microbiological work.

Agar is also used as a laxative, an appetite suppressant, vegetarian gelatin substitute, a thickener for soups, in fruit preserves, ice cream, and other desserts, as a clarifying agent in brewing, and for sizing paper and fabrics.

Another target is the Sargassum variety whose algin is now being developed as an anti-cancer ingredient.

The processing plant for these products in Bicol is within the National Seaweed Development Technology Center (NSTDC) at Barangay Cabid-an in Sorsogon City.

Seaweed itself as food is rich in iodine, an essential trace element for the body’s growth, removal of body toxins, and prevention of mental retardation, goiter and other diseases.

Catanduanes is going to take advantage of the demand for this product, but for now the OPAg is undertaking more training in order to prepare beneficiaries of the livelihood program for massive seaweed production that would essentially generate jobs for coastal villagers especially when the sea is rough and not safe for fishing, Wong said.

“This is especially for thousands of our fisher folk while our upland farmers are sustaining the province’s prominence in the abaca industry,” she added.

Catanduanes, a province sitting off the northeastern side of the Bicol Peninsula has a total of 23,676 hectares abaca plantations cultivated by 15,454 farmers.

It is the country’s top abaca producer with a yearly production averaging 18,971 metric tons of export-quality fiber, representing 33.2 percent of the total national output. (PNA) CTB/FGS/DOC/CBD/