In the fight against climate change, a sustainable crop has recently been thrust onto the global agenda as a coastal livelihood alternative. This crop is called seaweed. This one crop links economic growth, both to food security and to climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Seaweed is a marine algae and it requires no fresh water or fertilisers to thrive. It is fast-growing and nutrient-intense, and doesn't interfere with land-based systems. It also has a number of uses, including carbon-dioxide removal via bio-sequestration.
A report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. describes seaweed farming as being dominated by countries in East and Southeast Asia.
Seaweed to the rescue
Once it is harvested, dried and processed, seaweed can be used in the food industry, as a texture modifier or for direct food consumption. It can be used as a supplement feed for livestock or in industrial and commercial applications such as fertilisers, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
Ten thousand species of seaweed have been identified in the marine environment.
What is Indonesia doing?
Indonesia is struggling to cope with plastic waste. It is the world’s second biggest contributor to plastic waste after China. Indonesia is producing about 15 percent of all the plastic pollution in the ocean and it is fast becoming the dumping ground for the world’s contaminated waste.
Local governments in Indonesia are turning to seaweed as a potential solution to both plastic waste and climate change. In the southeast of Bali island, the authorities are looking to employ an additional 100 seaweed farmers to grow the crop. The government is running a programme which will give two acres per farmer to grow seaweed.
The process of growing seaweed acts as a carbon sink. It sequesters carbon by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and from water to grow, and then is harvested and can be used in various products – like bioplastic.
In Indoneisa, a large number of sustainability-minded startups have begun using seaweed to replace conventional single-use products and packaging. For instance, in Jakarta, start-ups are making edible seaweed cups, edible food wrapping and single-use sachets.
Seaweed farming has multiple benefits when managed effectively. However, it should not be treated as a bandaid for mitigating climate change and food security. Experts warn that it must be part of an integrated coastal ecosystem approach, whereby secondary income is generated from community development through holistic approaches to coastal resilience.