Seaweed: Food for future

Gazi Anowar

Gazi Anowarul Hoque :
Seaweed has the horizon opportunities in meeting growing demand for food and nutrition with the increase of country's population. The coastal area of Bangladesh has vast potentials of it may be cultivated integrally with shrimp, experts say.    
Seaweed can also play a pivotal role in preserving sea diversity and fighting global warming and sea pollution, they added.
"It is a diverse group that offers numerous benefits.  These include sources of protein, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and antioxidants; and in levels that are unmatched in land-plants.  In addition, seaweeds are being discovered that could tackle obesity, diabetes, viruses and many other health concerns, experts said.
"Seaweed" is the common name for countless species of marine plants and algae that grow in the ocean as well as in rivers, lakes, and other water bodies.
A study conducted by Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) said, Bangladesh could earn yearly a great deal from farming the marine algae, which is valued at over $US 7.5 billion worldwide by the Food.
 "The protein contains very high quality and all the essential and non-essential amino acids. The small amounts of unsaturated lipids afford protection against cardiovascular pathologies," BARC said.
"Seaweed has an abundance of vitamins, including beta-carotene, which is the precursor of vitamin A, the vitamins of the B group, including B12, vitamin C, D, E and K," BARC said.
Another research study conducted by COAST said, Seaweed can be cultured for around six months a year and harvested twice a month. The average cost of cultivating seaweed per square meter is Tk 200 and the average price of cultivated seaweed per square meter is Tk. 650. Currently 16,000-20,000 kg of seaweed is cultivated and 40,000 to 60,000 kg is harvested from nature.
Professor Dr. Md. Kawser Ahmed, Chairman of Department of Oceanography, Dhaka University said that like other countries especially China, Japan and South Korea, Bangladesh could boost its economic dimension through exploration of seaweed resources.
"We can use our 25,000 sq km coastal area; 1,18,813 sq km territorial sea; 710 km long flat sea beach, and the large mangrove forest to cultivate and explore seaweed," he added.
"Bangladesh can earn a hefty amount of foreign currency through commercial cultivation of marine vegetables and marine vegetables grow in the sea and in less saline water," Dr Kawser opined.
Md Shafiuddin, fisheries development officer of COAST and seaweed researcher told the New Nation on Tuesday "Generally dried seaweeds are used as food. 40 Kg dried seaweed comes from nearly 200kg raw materials. Price of cultured seaweed goes up to Tk 3,500 per mound and to Tk 1,500 for the same amount of naturally harvested seaweed.
"It could meet the additional demand of nutrition and food for the additional population. We should promote not only massive cultivation of seaweed but also export it as the outer world has a good demand of it," he said.
 'We have a huge number of malnutrition children and we have seen that seaweed can build children's intelligence and complete growth. It can contribute to our GDP as we know a man who grew up with less nutrition can earn 15 percent less than a general one,' Shafiuddin opined.
"Seaweed is full of Iron, Iodine, different mineral salts and carotene and it could provide additional nutrition to elderly and children. Seaweed could reduce risk of heart diseases, high blood pressure and diabetics; he said adding that cultivation of marine vegetables would be helpful for poverty reduction and preserving ecological balance.
Golam Mowla, Director of Save Our Sea, a marine conservation related non-government organization, said seaweed might be the source of food and nutrition of 3 crore people in the coastal area.   

(This article was published in the daily New Naon on 30th-Jun-2016 )

The writer is a Marine Conservationist based in Bangladesh. He can be reached at gazianower@gmail.com