Innovation drives development

The Southeast Asian seaweed industry has a dilemma.
Cultivated seaweed dominates about 95 percent of the global seaweed production; most seaweed is farmed in Asia  but almost all production is used for making agar and carrageenan. The carrageenan industry depends 90 percent on cultivated tropical seaweeds, but the market for such seaweeds from 1999–2009 only rose from 168 000 to 202 500 tonnes (~2%/annum) and 2010–2013 volumes showed little or no increase over 2009. Carrageenan and agar markets show weak market growth nowadays with carrageenan markets stalled at about 50 000 tonnes/yr in response to high seaweed prices (especially “cottonii”) and weak economies.

Region (number of factories) and tons annual capacity for carrageenan. 

More than 48 factories with over 100 000 tons of capacity chasing about 50 000 tons of market… and this does not include numerous small factories such as alkali-treated chips (ATC) plants. 

Innovation has been minimal so carrageenan and agar markets have launched no major new product lines in decades.
There has been a proliferation of new process facilities in Indonesia and elsewhere, especially for carrageenan, to the point where more than 48 factories with annual capacity over 100 000 tonnes/yr are slicing a market pie that is only 50 000 tonnes large. Finally, existing factories are utilizing old-school technology that extracts gums from seaweeds, but wastes nutrients and other valuable components.

Experience has shown that innovation drives seaweed industry development.

Some prominent examples described in our innovation monograph are:

  1. Development of the multi-billion US$per annum nori industry from cultivated Porphyra subsequent to the life-cycle discoveries of Kathleen Drew-Baker;
  2. Development of the world’s largest seaweed aquaculture industry – Saccharina (Laminaria) in China – based on the scientific innovations of Dr C.K. Tseng and his colleagues in the 1950s;
  3. Development of carrageenan seaweed cultivation by 1974 in response to the imminent demise of a carrageenan industry previously dependent on declining natural stocks; and
  4. Development of semi-refined carrageenan technology in response to the sudden prolific availability of cultivated “cottonii” seaweed from the Philippines by 1980.

Southeast Asia produced over 90 percent of world tropical seaweed production as of 2013 and dozens of agar and/or carrageenan factories of various scales have been established.
Their survival and growth depends on using innovation to drive technology, product and market development – in effect, to increase the number and/or size of the “market pies”. Innovative seaweed industry development requires synergy among coastal “Satoumi Seascape” communities; scientists with vision; and entrepreneurs with spirit and determination. Dimensions of opportunities examined in out innovation paper include:

  1. Distribution, abundance and political structure of coastal communities that favours integrated development within Satoumi Seascapes.
  2. A dominant position within the Coral Triangle, which has 71 percent of global seacoast within 10 degrees of the Equator.
  3. Comparative advantage for development of integrated crop systems in response to a vast global need for aquaculture. Forecast demand (based on FAO 2012 data) could be for added annual production of 33 million tonnes worth at least US$46 billion.
  4. Ready opportunities to extract the full value of seaweed biomass by adopting multi-stream, zero-effluent (MUZE) process technology that can ultimately form the basis for a wide range of products being developed by biotechnology companies.
  5. Innovative opportunities that can build on strengths in hydrocolloids including:
    • Ocean systems for cheaper, more productive seaweed production;
    • More efficient systems for hydrocolloid manufacture; and
    • Utilization of non-hydrocolloid seaweed constituents, especially biostimulants and nutrients.

Incubator and accelerator facilities play a key role in bringing research to reality so innovation can function as a driver seaweed trade and market development. 

There is an urgent need for “incubator” and “accelerator” facilities that can nurture developed technologies from the laboratory, through pilot-scale to full-scale ICS and MUZE systems that function within satoumi seascapes.


Bixler HJ & Porse H, 2010. A Decade of Change in the Seaweed Hydrocolloids Industry. Plenary paper presented at the XX International Seaweed Symposium, Ensenada Mexico, February, 2010

FAO, 2012. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2012. ISSN 1020-5489. Publishing Policy and Support Branch Office of Knowledge Exchange, Research and Extension FAO.

Neish IC, 2013. Some Social and Economic Dimensions of Seaweed Aquaculture in Indonesia. In Valderrama, D., Cai, J., Hishamunda, N. & Ridler, N., eds. 2013. Social and economic dimensions of carrageenan seaweed farming. Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 580. Rome, FAO.

From the sun
through seaplants
to you...

C.V. Evadian


Innovation as a driver for Indonesian seaweed trade and market development
Satoumi: Socio-ecological production landscapes (SEPL) integrate ICS and MUZE with SRE

ICS: Integrated crop systems: aquaculture agriculture

MUZE: Multi-stream, zero-effluent processing

SRE: Socially responsible enterprises
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