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Seaweed Industry

Many times we ponder on the mystery of business success. With very limited resources it is almost impossible to contemplate on opening a small business to feel the gratifying effects of financial success. There are however, other people that even without experience, education and investment capital, they bravely conquered the challenge of entrepreneurship.

Brown Seaweed - Locally Known as Kapilaran Seaweed

Today, the Philippines has ample available resources to invest in the capitalistic world of business. Overseas investors are coming to the Philippines to provide the Filipinos with the opportunity to advance in the business culture. For example, the Philippines has housed many international companies where its financial-generating opportunities are open to Filipinos who are willing to accept the challenge. Likewise, the Philippine natural resources are great sources for capitalistic boom, except, the ideas and concept of entrepreneurship must be instilled into the minds and souls of the Filipinos.

Greed Seaweed - Locally Known as Katunay

Seaweed industry is a good source of capitalism in Oroquieta City and other towns of Misamis Occidental. Seaweed comes in variety, but what is grown in our province is called the Eucheuma which is commonly known in Visayan term as "Guso." Many years ago, Guso were harvested from the wild and then dried for exportation. According to reports that in 1966 the Philippines has exported about 800 metric tons of Guso or Eucheuma seaweeds.

Seaweed Farm - Mindanao, Philippines

Many foreign markets have benefited from the Guso export business of this country. However, for some reason or another the supply simply never seemed to equate the demands in the early years. Supply of seaweeds gradually dropped even in the early years of export due to the absence of systematic planning in farming and process in harvesting. Uncontrolled harvesting had reportedly became the main issue causing the decline in the export supply. In spite of that decline, the initiation of this type of export materials has revolutionized this country’s seaweed industry.

The evolution of the seaweed industry began in the early 1960s in the island of Hawaii where a reported entrepreneur (in collaboration with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the University of Hawaii) successfully revolutionized the production of the Eucheuma seaweeds. The Eucheuma seaweed is the main raw material used in manufacturing Carrageenan. What is significant about Carrageenan? Not to mention its cost affordability compared to the groups of expensive food additives, Carrageenan is used as a prime ingredient in the making of edible and non-edible products, such as toothpaste and gel-foam air fresheners. Carrageenan is widely used as a binding agent in many food products.

What is Carrageenan?

Science describe Carrageenan as a "natural marine colloidal gum of a seaweed extract (powder form) of Class Rhodophycea or commonly known as Red Algae." Carrageenan is widely used in many products, such as fat and foam stabilizer and enhancer in milk products, creams and desserts; emulsifier and food thickener in sauces, salad dressings and soups; and binder to retain food quality, such as freshness in poultry and meat products. Other than food products, Carrageenan is also used as foam stabilizer and thickener that produce a smooth silky texture in lotions, creams and shampoos.

The Philippine Natural Resources

Mindanao has always been famous with its natural resources. The vast majority of the Mindanao region is surrounded by rich soil and edible marine and plant species. While marine resources is in constant demands, the supply of farm materials remain an issue in combating the farmers’ difficulty in producing more. For many years, the southern Mindanao region has always advanced as one of the Philippines major sources of export products. With the constant demands for authentic black pearl, the fishermen in that region is challenged by their needs for the necessary tools and systematic approach to succeed in farming.

The first commercialized Eucheuma farm was reportedly begun in the early 1970s in the southern Mindanao’s Tawi-tawi, Jolo and Zamboanga. By 1978 this type of farming expanded in Bohol, Cebu, Samar and Leyte. Reports showed that the Philippines has produced its all time high of seaweed supply in the early 1990s. According to reports, about 400,000 metric tons of fresh Eucheuma seaweeds were being produced by 80,000 Filipino farmers. As much as 80% of the reported worldwide supply of Carrageenan comes from the species of Eucheuma Cottoni and Eucheuma Spinosum and majority comes from the Philippine farm source. The production of these species was made not only for its effectiveness, but also for its high quality properties where its raw materials provide added value to match the product needs. Unlike other seaweed species where their production is dependent on their natural wild state underwater existence, Eucheuma can be mass-produced from a properly cultivated underwater seaweed farming environment.

The reported first Filipino-owned Carrageenan processing plant was established in 1979 in the island of Cebu where Alternatively Refined Natural Grade Carrageenan (ARC) was initially produced. This resulted in population explosion of the Seaweed Export Industry in the Philippines with a reported growth from $1 million US dollars in 1976 to $51 million US dollars in 1990. According to reports, this country has fourteen (14) business corporations who are directly engaged in seaweed exports. Eight (8) of these companies are directly involved in the manufacture of Carrageenan. Their reported assets have reached up to $36.7 million U.S. dollars in 1990. With that, as much as 10,000 Filipinos gained employment from this industry.

Economic Impact

Being the major world market supplier of Seaweed, the Philippines shared the industry's growth in the international market. What does this mean to our Filipino brothers and sisters back home? Well, think about it.... this industry has shown its progressive growth internationally which in no doubt that this country will be able to produce more given the fact that research, training and development is adequately and appropritely provided to the Filipino farmers. The most noted positive influence of Seaweed farming is that it created safe havens to the many species of fish due to the fact that blast and cyanide fishing have tremendously reduced.

According to reports that there are approximately 6,500 Filipino workers directly employed by the processing industry. Some few years ago, Oroquieta City had initiated a Seaweed farming, however, due to an unexplained adverse effects on our marine life, this type of farming is currently on hold. However, the neighboring town of Lopez Jaena is presently engaged in this type of farming. According to our Kababayans, Josefina Simplina and Stephen Rumalay that they have observed a Seaweed farming in the Mansabay (Lopez Jaena) area. Imagine this particular farming growing in our province will certainly and positively provide overall economic growth.

Future Growth and Challenges

Of course the international market also competes with each other. In the previous years the European Countries, such as England, Denmark, France, and Germany have been the reported major importers of the Philippines' ARC. However, recent changes in laws and regulation in the European market has affected the Philippines ability to export more to these countries. For that reason, the Philippines is switching its gears by looking at the American markets, such as Canada, United States and other South American countries. According to reports, on June 12, 1991 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has agreed to use the Philippines' Alternatively Refined Natural Carrageenan (ARC) as food additive. Likewise, Canada also agreed to enter the Philippines' ARC into their market as non-toxic food additive. Other South American countries, such as Argentina and Mexico are reportedly buying our ARC products and are now widely used in their countries as food additive as well.

The bottom line is...there is a need for the Philippines to be proactive in terms of the country's readiness to compete in the international market. Likewise, there is a great need for Filipinos to equip themselves with the necessary skills, and qualities, as well as financial strength to continue on focusing its production for export supply. The Philippine leaders must bear in mind that without the necessary tools, such as training and development of the farmers, the Seaweed industry will be counterproductive. According to reports, the future growth of the Seaweed industry is expected to reach $700 million (U.S. dollars). Barring unforseen problems, of that expected amount, an estimated growth of $350 million (U.S. dollars) comes from the European market. Can you imagine Oroquieta getting a big chunk of benefit from that growth?

Ging Mutia


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Saturday, April 19, 2003 (Revised)