Seaweeds industry promises good returns to fisherfolks

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Seaweeds industry in the Philippines.

One important industry in the Island of Panay in Western Visayas is the seaweeds industry in which through a Community-based Participatory Action Research (CPAR) project funded by Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), is providing the impetus for growth that is slowly and increasingly gaining momentum for the sector.

Specifically, the CPAR Seaweed Culture Project, implemented in Brgy. Panobolon, Nueva Velencia in Guimaras, is reaping a huge success for the community. Panobolon is an island about 15 kilometers from the town of Nueva Valencia wherein fishing is the main source of income of the people. They also get their earnings from farming and seaweed culture which at present is the major source of livelihood of the fisherfolk of Panobolon. Tremendous social and economic impacts were observed and recorded in the lives of individual farmer and the community-based fisherfolk organizations.

CPAR project on seaweeds

The CPAR Seaweed Culture Project started in August 2009 in collaboration with the DA-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resource (BFAR) Region VI and the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Guimaras. BFAR-VI and the LGU conducted three-day training on seaweed culture and solar salt making. The training included lectures on the biology and culture of seaweeds. Hands-on training on seaweed planting, fish pot construction and installation of salt beds were also part of the capability building introduced to the fisherfolk of Panobolon.

The CPAR project, which is implemented for two years, hopes to uplift the living condition of the people, and establish and promote an improved production systems and technologies in rural communities for increased productivity and profitability.

One will recall, that on 11 August 2006, M/V Solar 1, an oil tanker sank in Guimaras leaving its shores with spilled 2.4 million liters of oil which contaminated 1,000 hectares of mangrove areas. The massive oil spill threatened water species and resources. At that time, environmentalists referred to the accident as the worst oil spill in the country’s history and estimated the cleanup to take at least a year. Inspite of this unfortunate event, fishermen pinned their hopes in livelihood projects in agriculture, fisheries, and solar-salt making to bring their lives back on track.

The project leader is led by Ms. Remia A. Appari, manager of BFAR-VI/Regional Fisheries Research and Development Center (RFRDC). The project is implemented with the members of the Panobolon Seaweed Growers Association as the fisherfolk-partner and collaborator. The LGU of Guimaras also took part in the identification of the project site in coordination with Panobolon Barangay Captain Pedro Helera.

The project component included the distribution of 16,800 kilograms of fresh Kappaphycus sp. seedlings to 36 selected proponents intended for the 3.5-hectare seaweed culture area. The seaweed project is composed of 14 modules (modules 1 – 7 for year 1 and modules 8 – 14 for year 2), with an area of 2,500 sq.m. for each fisherfolk-partner. The average fisherfolk-member was composed of two to three families per module. Other materials included Polyethylene ropes, Styrofoam blocks, plastic straws, nets and other related fishing gears.

The culture period of seaweeds is from 45 to 60 days. After which, harvested seaweeds are sun-dried for two to three days under favorable conditions. Moisture content must be at least 35 percent to meet the marketable standards. During rainy season, however, seaweeds are dried using air dry method.

According to Joelyn Sentina, BFAR Reg-VI technical staff, one of the projects had already been completed during the first year of implementation. Fisherfolk-beneficiaries were able finish two-cycles and were able to sell their produce to local seaweed consolidators. Based on production and income proportion, 46 percent of the projected income is obtained or derived after two-cycles.

Seaweeds are algae which generally thrive in the sea or brackish water. Scientist call them “benthic marine algae” which literally means, attached algae that live in the sea. Seaweeds come in three colors: red, brown, and green. Red and brown algae are exclusively marine while the green are common in fresh water.

Smiles of success

“Iyong tulong na nabigay ng BAR ay siya ring naitulong ko sa aming barangay bilang Kapitan ” (The assistance that BAR provided to us is also the assistance we are extending in our baranggay), said Brgy. Captain Pedro Helera, also a fisherfolk cooperator.

“Nakakakain na kami ng maayos at napag-aaral namin ang aming mga anak” (We now have enough food to eat and we could send our children to school), revealed the teary-eyed mother, Jocelyn Pueyo. The same sentiment was re-echoed by another successful seaweed grower, Imelda Ganancial. Pueyo and Ganancial are both module team leaders and beneficiaries of the CPAR project.

After the first year of project (August 2009 – August 2010), the total production of harvested seaweeds in the cove of Panobolon reached 53.35MT amounting to gross income of P800,000. Majority of the fisherfolk in Panobolon decided to continue the seaweed culture even without government support and intervention. This experience was reported to the BAR Project Monitoring Team by the project proponents during a project site visit.

Since the program is still in its growing stage, aura of hope and contentment were visible in the faces of the people of Panobolon. For now, with this CPAR project, the fisherfolk are assured of a better tomorrow. They could then say and promise to their children to “sleep tight, for tomorrow they will harvest seaweeds” and never worry for their incomes are assured. (Patrick A. Lesaca/DABAR)

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