SEATTLE, Washington — Worsening land degradation and environmental conditions in the Philippines have caused farmers and fishermen to face economic hardships. To combat this, many are switching to seaweed farming, which has provided a new market for the economically challenged.
The Issue of Land Degradation
In the Philippines, 27% of jobs are related to agriculture and fisheries. Many of the people who hold jobs in the fishing and agricultural sector are economically disadvantaged. Because these jobs are dependent on variable factors such as weather conditions and soil health, they tend to be an unreliable source of income. This unreliability has worsened with increased soil degradation. Currently, it estimated that 45% of the Philippines’ land is “moderately to severely eroded.”
Land degradation is increasing worldwide, due to factors such as expanding crop cultivation into untouched areas, unsustainable techniques, urban growth and increased infrastructure.
When soil and land quality decrease, so do the benefits that they would normally provide. Degraded land produces fewer and worse crops, consequently lowering farmers’ income. Additionally, degradation decreases biodiversity and carbon sequestration rates. Overall, this phenomenon is a troubling challenge for both farmers and the environment.
In recent years, workers in the fishing industry in the Philippines have started to face hardships as well. The quantity of fish has decreased substantially, forcing fishers to travel farther and longer to possibly obtain a good catch. This is a risky and costly endeavor, which many workers have abandoned due to the lack of benefits. Those who continue have been forced to find supplemental work to support themselves.
The Benefits of Seaweed Farming
Seaweed farming has proven to be a promising solution for farmers and workers alike in the fish industry. As 70% of the earth is covered by oceans, the ability to successfully use these areas could hold overwhelming advantages. Because of this, over the course of the coming years, the worldwide seaweed farming industry is projected to double in worth. This is a hopeful prediction for the already $6 billion industry, and especially uplifting for the Philippines, one of the world’s main suppliers of seaweed.
One of the advantages of seaweed farming is that it is an accessible business in many parts of the Philippines. Many families build and use their own seaweed growing equipment, which is usually a simple combination of tubes, nets and ropes.
Additionally, there are seaweed associations that provide education on successful seaweed farming techniques. By participating in training, members gain information on seaweed drying methods, gain an understanding of market prices and learn ways to better their processes.
A nonprofit called GreenWave is also reaching out to seaweed farmers and introducing them to their system of seaweed farming, which includes a vertical growing plan and integrated polyculture. This organization calls its technique “regenerative ocean farming” because it is highly sustainable and provides positive environmental outcomes.
Seaweed harvests occur every 45 days, and each harvest is projected to earn $960 or more. Farmers dry their seaweed and either locally sell it or export it to other countries such as China.
Seaweed is also needed in a wide array of industries, as it can be used for supplements, fertilizers, medications and as a replacement for plastic. This versatility is allowing the seaweed market to expand even further, increasing demand and benefiting seaweed farmers in the Philippines and beyond.
– Hannah Allbery
Photo: Wikimedia Commons