History of Seaweed Processing and Future Outlook

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Wet Cottonii

Seaweed farming and processing technologies developed elsewhere during the 1970s and 1980s. They were commercially applied in Indonesia about a decade later during the 1980s and 1990s. This occurred as wireless communication technology and developing transport links enabled value chain development across the thous-ands of islands that span three time zones in the Indonesian archipelago. Indonesia emerged as the major producer of tropical seaweeds by the mid-2000s.

Both international and domestic companies are involved in producing and processing Indonesian seaweed crops. There are opportunities for global value chain players to participate in Indonesian seaweed production develop-ment at several value chain levels.

As of 2014 most Gracilaria was made into agar by national processors and was sold into domestic markets but most Kappaphycus and Eucheuma was exported as raw-dried seaweeds. Processors based in Indonesian are capable of making refined and semi-refined kappa carrageenan and semi-refined iota carrageenan and can do so with competitive production costs. At least one major end user discovered decades ago that SRC from Indonesian producers is cost effective but most solution providers retain legacy links to processors outside Indonesia even though they are processing Indonesian-sourced seaweed. Indonesian processors are therefore striving to penetra-te such global markets for their carrageenan and agar building block products.

Currently, the list of the Indonesian Seaweed Industry Association (ASTRULI) comprises of 16 seaweed processors.

However, the country has listed a total of 37 national seaweed processing industries. They are distributed among 11 provinces.

Indonesia is evolving from follower to leader: Hosting of the 21st International Seaweed Symposium (ISS) in Bali during April, 2013 marked the evolving transition of Indonesia from industry follower to innovation leader.

The transition is being catalyzed by public and trade organizations including government ministries, international assistance organizations and research consortia in Indonesia; and innovative enterprises building strategic business alliances among domestic and international value chain stakeholders.

Initiatives include development of more productive agronomy practices; implementation of diversified, ecosystem approaches to aquaculture within coastal communities; and innovative new processes and products.

At the farm level step-change innovation is possible as more efficient farming methods are combined with advanced post-harvest treatment. Lower-labor farming methods not only reduce production cost but also open up large areas for farm development by enabling planting in deeper waters.

Processing that commences with live seaweeds at the farm level greatly enhances seaweed value by enabling effective recovery of seaweed solids and seaweed juice that feed into multi-stream, zero-effluent (MUZE) proces-sing systems. Systems such as these make it feasible to develop remote, unpopulated areas using a ‘plantation’ approach to seaweed aquaculture systems. In populated regions developing technologies enable the implementa-tion of ‘nucleus-plasma’ systems, such as those successfully operated at large scale in Indonesian poultry and prawn production.

International involvement in such developments is already beginning in Indonesia. There is ample opportunity for European companies to get involved as a development partner as Indonesia evolves from technology follower to technology leader.

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