The world’s fastest-growing source of food
By: Meenakshi J
Researchers in India have long been proposing seaweed cultivation as a form of sustainable agriculture. Much of India’s coast is ideal for seaweed cultivation with suitable tropical weather, shallow waters and a rich supply of nutrients. The benefits could be significant. India’s economy is an agrarian one, with 60% of its land used for agriculture. But close to 47% of the country’s cultivable land is being lost to soil degradation. Water erosion is responsible for more than a third of this loss – but, through seaweed, water could also be part of the solution.
Seaweed’s nutritional value is far from its only appeal as a crop. Seaweed gains its energy through photosynthesis, in a similar way to plants (though seaweeds are actually macroalgae). Seaweed absorbs carbon dioxide, converting the carbon to sugars for energy, and releases oxygen into the water.
The surge in seaweed cultivation has had a positive socio-economic impact on the coastal communities in India, particularly among women seaweed farmers, helping them increase their economic independence.
And seaweed cultivation is set to grow further in India, with CSMCRI working with the Ministry of Fisheries to begin seaweed cultivation of both native and exotic species of seaweed along a 100km (62-mile) stretch of shoreline. The seaweed is not only destined to be a food source, but also a source of biofuels, bio-fertilizers and other products. While the CSMCRI’s seaweed biofuel is still being perfected to make it economically and environmentally viable, its liquid bio-fertilizer has been shown to boost crop yields and has been rolled out to market.
According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization’s latest report on the seaweed trade, the fast-growing global seaweed market is already more than $6bn (£4.5bn) a year. India’s present seaweed value is estimated to be around $500m (£370m), despite a bumpy ride in recent years. “In 2013, close to 1,500 metric tonnes of seaweed was harvested,” says Abhiram Seth, founder of AquAgri. “But then, El Nino and global warming contributed to increasing the temperature of oceans. That’s resulted in lower yield in the years to come.”
For a food historically much neglected in Indian cuisine, seaweed is set to have a remarkable influence on the nation’s coasts. And as this algae can help lock up carbon and save agricultural land, perhaps it deserves a more prominent place on the nation’s plates.
> Source: Meenakshi J