Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New Midases of the seas

New Midases of the seas
MCPI and DED help more fishermen
benefit from the growing seaweed market

For the coastal communities, the ocean is their lifeline. 

For years, the fisherfolk solely depend on fishing as their main source of livelihood. Day in and day out, they sail along unsteady waves with hopes that they can catch enough fish to feed for their families.

Unsupported population growth, however, is not on their side.

As the population rises, the demand for fish, among other food products, also increases. Without proper marine preservation efforts, the supply of fish is steadily depleting.  And without any other sustainable means of livelihood for these communities, it won't be long before they, too, would reach a level of income depletion.

SECAFEE (Seaweeds, Cacao and Coffee) Integrated Development Cooperative Chairman Leo Escala shares that it is not the absence of alternative sources which prompted them to solely depend on fishing.

“Our farmers and fisherfolk know that there are other ways they can earn, but they are afraid of risks. Fishing is what has been continually feeding them for years. What if they have invested so much in this alternative and end up losing more income instead?” he adds. 

Business solutions. The situation opened an opportunity for German Development Service (DED) Consultant Janina Wohlgemuth, who, on the other hand, was helping develop business solutions to MCPI Corp., an export company that deals with seaweeds, particularly carrageenan. MCPI Corp. is currently importing high quantities of seaweed from Malaysia and Indonesia to meet its demand, and is looking for more local suppliers which the fisherfolk can address.

Seaweed has become one of the most sought-after products in the market mostly for its extract, carrageenan, which is mainly used in the food processing industry.

With the Strategic Corporate-Community Partnerships for Social Progress (SCOPE) Program, 24 fishermen of the SECAFEE Integrated Development Cooperative learned the basics of integrated seaweed farming through a three-day training at MCPI's Ocean Farming and Research Center in Danajon Reef, Bien Unido, Bohol.

The training, which was conducted by MCPI and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), taught fishermen basic fishery laws and the economics of seaweed production and market prospects of the seaweed industry.

MCPI and DED will further assist the fisherfolk in setting up a 2.5-hectare seaweed farm which will expand to eight hectares after three planting cycles. Some of the harvested seaweeds will be given to the Dalaguete farmers and other PBSP-supported farmers in Bohol so they can start their farms in the next planting cycle. A second part of the harvested seaweeds will be used to grow the farm in Guindacpan and the rest will be sold to MCPI.

SCOPE. The SCOPE Program, which runs for two years, aims to establish cooperation between the communities and the business sector. Under this partnership, the community provides for the business needs of a company, which in turn, makes the company a stable market of the community.

“The end goal of the project is to generate a long-term alternative source of income for the people of Guindacpan, Dalaguete and Calituban. Most of them are fisherfolks and with decreasing fishing yields they are finding it harder and harder to maintain their families. The company benefits from the cooperation as well: they will have suppliers who are trained in the MCPI quality standards who will be able to sell them dried seaweed that fulfills their standards,” Wohlgemuth said.

“An additional outcome is the protection of the environment. It discourages dynamite and cyanide fishing present in the area as these fishing practices also affect the seaweed farms. Additionally, the seaweed farms serve as a habitat for many marine species.”

“We are very thankful for the training because we have learned how to manage and take care of the seaweeds technically. Though most of us already know how to plant the seaweeds, we still lack the knowledge on certain technical aspects like disease prevention and the proper harvesting and drying of seaweeds,” Leo Escala added.