Latest evidence on seaweed industry presented to South Sulawesi
The most recent policy forum between PAIR and government and industry leaders in South Sulawesi has taken a close look at the latest seaweed research as they consider ways to sustainably boost the industry.
The discussion touched on satellite mapping data, pricing triggers, skills capability and the use of plastic bottles in seaweed production.
Lead researchers from the Partnership for Australia Indonesia Research (PAIR) outlined how their findings could be used to better understand the market value and quality of seaweed, and provide insight into coastal communities and the goal of developing a more sophisticated industry.
Seaweed production supports the livelihoods of more than 35,000 households in South Sulawesi (BPS, 2020). The Indonesian government has prioritised the development of the seaweed industry because of its important role in alleviating poverty in coastal communities.
Co-lead researcher Scott Waldron outlined how new high-image satellite mapping was providing better understanding of where seaweed was growing, compared to the hand-drawn maps used in the past.
“If we know where seaweed grows well and correlate it to environmental conditions, such as salinity, then we can use that to understand where to grow seaweed best in Indonesia,” said the University of Queensland’s Dr Waldron.
The forum also heard the researchers had been given access to a huge database managed by JASUDA, a seaweed industry resource network, which provided pricing for seaweed in 13 areas since 2005.
The evidence from this shows that the price set in one town (Takalar) affects the rest of the market. However the data also shows that prices do not reflect the quality of seaweed.
“A farmer can produce fantastic quality seaweed but won’t necessarily get the best price for it. So that tells us that the Indonesian market is not functioning well in that regard,” said Dr Waldron.
The researchers were able to talk about their findings with key industry officials, including Sulkaf S. Latief, the former head of the South Sulawesi Marine and Fisheries Service.
“South Sulawesi has established seaweed as a reliable commodity. We can already see from the PAIR study that all data show a positive increase. However, that does not mean there are no problems in its development especially with regard to markets and prices,” said Ir Sulkaf.
Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of seaweed, however most of it is exported in a low-value form rather than being processed or refined in-country. It is most often used as a food ingredient, however market demand is growing for seaweed’s use in other areas, such as a replacement for plastics and for use in pharmaceuticals, biofuels, chemicals and cosmetics.
The head of South Sulawesi’s Accelerator Team, Andi Aslam Patonangi, said the research could help with recommendations to improve the quality to meet international standards.
PAIR research co-lead Nunung Nuryartono outlined to the forum the material being collected from the two seaweed villages of Pangkep and Takalar. The research team has held surveys with 278 farmers and in-depth interviews with 78 across ten months.
“As many as 83 percent of the people in our research area, the source of their income comes from seaweed cultivation. However, they need efforts to mitigate and manage risks due to weather and climate change. It is important to follow up on this in the preparation of the policy road map,” said Professor Nunung.
The Professor, from the IPB University, explained how the work in the villages was important to understanding the overall welfare of seaweed villages and what incentives and drivers would work best in developing the industry.
This work is being carried out by junior researchers who are living in the villages and developing methodology to best collect relevant data.
Questions being raised include the role of small-holders and perhaps corporate entities, the types of seaweed farmers, and how to accommodate the different players in training, policy and technical developments.
As an example, University of Queensland research fellow Zannie Langford said that seaweed farmers with ownership of the marine ‘space’ tend to have higher incomes. Those working within other parts of the chain, seaweed binders, for instance, can negotiate a wage rise in line with an increase in seaweed prices.
According to Asdar Marsuki of the Seaweed Association of Indonesia (ARLI), the industry needs to have research and development right through the value chain.
“All actors involved in seaweed cultivation have the right to prosper, from farmers to industrial workers in order to achieve sustainable upgrading of the South Sulawesi seaweed industry,” he said.
The forum also heard of the in-field studies being done by the junior researchers to gain evidence on the use of plastic bottles in seaweed lines, and examine how the plastics degraded and what significant factors lead the degradation process.
Indonesia is already the largest seaweed producer in the world. It accounts for more than a third of global seaweed production.
The Centre’s executive director, Eugene Sebastian, met with government and industry stakeholders two weeks prior to the forum and discussion on the seaweed industry was a key area of focus. This included looking at the kind of education and training needed to support young people into a career along the whole industry value chain
The Consulate General of Australia in Makassar, Bronwyn Robbins, is advocating for PAIR to explore the opportunity to build new export markets from South Sulawesi to Australia under the economic agreement known as IA-CEPA.
“The Australian Government is very supportive of PAIR’s efforts to increase trade links, grow the industry and create jobs in both countries through seaweed,” said Ms Robbins.
The AIC seaweed industry researchers presented their findings and discussed them with the South Sulawesi government’s cooperation acceleration team (TGUPP) and the regional development planning, research and development agency (Bappelitbangda) The policy forum on 2 June 2022, which was also attended by experts and researchers from universities, the marine and fisheries service, agriculture, economy and regional development, the NGO sector and industry partners.