Seaweed: The World’s Fastest-Growing Source of Food

by Bharat Duggal

Seaweed: The World’s Fastest-Growing Source of Food

January 12, 2021

Seaweed is a good source of vitamins and minerals, and may even help you lose weight.

With a massive increase in global population and declining arable land, food scientists are now looking past land for food solutions that are cheap and readily available. The resources to feed the world could be found under the sea surface, and one such resource–seaweed – is becoming increasingly popular.

Eatable seaweed, or sea vegetables, are seaweeds that can be consumed and used to make food. In a similar manner as plants, seaweeds absorb carbon dioxide, convert the carbon to sugars for energy, and release oxygen into the water. About half the photosynthesis on the planet transpires in seaweeds and algae in seas.

Earlier Uses

For many years, seaweeds have been utilized directly as food for humans. Seaweeds are mainly used as food in coastal cuisines throughout the world. It has also been a part of diets in China, Japan, and Korea since prehistoric times. Citizens of Australia and New Zealand also got a taste of the vegetable when Asians reached Australia in the 1800s.

Traditionally, seaweed has been eaten in many traditional European societies, in Iceland and western Norway, the Atlantic shore of France, northern and western Ireland, Wales, and some seaside parts of South West England and New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Now, seaweed farming is being developed to feed the increasing world population’s ever-growing needs and as an alternative to improve economic conditions for fishing communities and reduce fishing pressure and overexploited fisheries.

Busting the Myths

The dish usually served in western Chinese eateries as 'Crispy Seaweed' is not seaweed but cabbage that has been dehydrated and then fried.

Benefits of Eating Seaweed

Seaweed typically contains high amounts of fiber. It also contains Iodine and Tyrosine, which support thyroid function.

India's Share

In India, coastal settlements such as Pamban Island and the Gulf of Mannar are becoming home to the country’s seaweed boom. According to BBC, “locals in the area have historically collected natural wild seaweeds indigenous to the region. It is to these villages that India is turning to as a model for seaweed cultivation”.

Dr. Rajeev Ranjan, Secretary at the Ministry of Fisheries, told the Hindu business line that when it comes to seaweed farming, “our (India’s) share is measly, not even worth mentioning.”  Out of the 33 million tons of seaweed produced worldwide, half of it is from China and most of the rest from Indonesia and the Philippines; India has nearly 20,000 tons.

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Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Potential Avenue for Revenue

Therefore, pumping in resources and increasing production can help India make use of this untapped opportunity. According to the book Seaweed Sustainability, seaweed can also act as a nutritional meal for the growing Indian population.

It contains omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and bioactive compounds, acting as sustainable agriculture. Understanding the vast potential, the Indian government recently allocated ₹ 637 crores to cultivate these nutrition-rich marine plants as part of the ₹20,050-crore ‘Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana’.

Schemes with similar goals have been launched by other countries around the world as well. Seaweeds are now being increasingly recognized as a sustainable food source with the potential to play a significant role in providing food security worldwide.

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