(File photo courtesy of DA ZamPen RAFIS)

The Department of Agriculture is setting its sights on amplifying support for local seaweed producers, aiming to strengthen the backbone of the Philippine aquaculture industry and its second-largest export revenue source.

Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jr. wants this, emphasizing the potential of the local seaweed industry to regain its status as the world’s leading exporter.

“We really need to support the industry,” he said at a recent gathering of seaweed industry stakeholders.

“Indonesia already surpassed our production…[but] we still have unutilized area of 85,000 hectares. Until we reach that, we shouldn’t stop. If possible, we should accelerate the industry’s area expansion,” he added.

In 1990, the Philippines supplied 80 percent of the world’s seaweed demand, whereas Indonesia accounted for just 10 percent.

However, the situation has shifted significantly since then, with Indonesia now producing five times more seaweed than the Philippines.

Concerns voiced by industry leaders include inadequate support for the sector and a shortage of seedlings. These challenges could be tackled through the establishment of larger tissue culture laboratories and the training of additional technicians.

Addressing logistical issues is also crucial, such as the expansion of port facilities for transporting raw materials to processing plants and the establishment of more power plants to mitigate the high cost of electricity.

While most seaweed production comes from Mindanao, processing facilities are in Cebu and Manila. The seaweed industry earned around USD250 million even during the pandemic and generated export sales of USD350 million in 2022.

Laurel said the cost of logistics could be lowered if extra containers in Zamboanga are used more efficiently.

“There are a lot of dry containers in Zamboanga. I think we can solve the logistics issue there if we coordinate with other industries. It’s a matter of convergence,” he said.

Secretary Tiu Laurel acknowledged the industry’s proposal to provide support in terms of seedlings, implements, lines, floaters, and counterweights to help seaweed farmers, who could produce 70,000 metric tons of seaweeds a year. He said once dried, the seaweed harvest would generate around 10,000 tons every year worth P550 million—a good return for a total investment of P1 billion for the industry, including large tissue culture laboratories, dryers, warehouses and training more technicians.