With the government allocating Rs 637 crore towards developing seaweed farming, which is to be spent over the next five years, a new opportunity has arisen for those who want to set up small or medium scale businesses.
Seaweed farming shows great promise. It is a sunrise sector with substantial export potential. Despite success through contract farming in the Mandapam area in southern Tamil Nadu, the sector has languished, only for want of attention. In Mandapam, some 900 fishermen families have been engaged in seaweed farming for nearly three decades; each family has been earning a good Rs 12,000 a month.
Now, things are changing. The Prime Minister himself is reported to be keen on seeing this sector develop, essentially because of the immense employment potential it offers, especially to womenfolk. The Rs 637 crore allocation is part of the Rs 20,050 crore Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY), announced as part of the economic revival package, Atmanirbhar Bharat.
Tamil Nadu has been quick to seize the opportunity and has put in a demand for Rs 247 crore. There is a plan to set up a Seaweed Park in Rameswaram—an industrial estate exclusive to seaweed processing—where industries can come and set up units. There is talk of setting up a Board to conduct auction of seaweeds. So, both the central government and the government of Tamil Nadu are very serious about it. Thus, it is a big business opportunity.
First, what are seaweeds? ‘Seaweeds’ refers to a huge range of marine plants, which are rich in nutrients. The world produces some 33 million tons of seaweeds, 53 per cent of it comes from China and most of the rest from just two countries—Indonesia and the Philippines. India produces 20,000 tons a year. According to Dr Rajeev Ranjan, Secretary, Ministry of Fisheries, Government of India, India can easily scale up to produce a million tonnes a year.
According to the Ministry, India has around 60 commercially important species, but only a few—Kapphycus, Sargasum, Gracilaria and Gelediella—are being exploited, on a small scale. Seaweeds are a source of a variety of extracts that are used in food, pharmaceuticals and plant nutrition industries. Experts say that seaweeds are “packed with two super anti-oxidants” — Fucoidans, which fight cancer of the white blood cells (lymphoma) and Ecklonia cava, rich in polyphenols. Research at the Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI), Bhavnagar, have shown that seaweed extracts to be good plant nutrients.
In the early 2000, PepsiCo obtained license of the technology developed by CSMCRI and contracted fishermen in Mandapam to cultivate seaweed, which is done by just placing rafts made of bamboo in shallow sea water and seeding them. In a few years, one of PepsiCo’s executives, Abhirami Seth, quit his job and took over the business, which now operates under the name Aquagri. The model has been successful.
But due to lack of awareness and attention, the successful PepsiCo model has not been replicated elsewhere. However, today, things are falling in place. There is CSMCRI ready with technology to make stuff out of seaweeds. The Bay of Bengal Program, an inter-governmental organization set up under the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to promote fisheries and allied activities in the countries around the Bay of Bengal, is also available for help with technical support. The government of India is ready to provide financial assistance. The potential of seaweed farming has been talked about for a long time, but it is for the first time that the government has made a financial allocation. Thus, it is a low hanging business opportunity to pluck. Get into a contract with a bunch of fisherfolk, help them with knowledge about the craft and set up a back-end processing unit—you are sure to make money.
There is plenty of material on seaweed farming to read up before an entrepreneur makes up his mind about taking a plunge into this business. Here are two:
You can contact CSMCRI:
Name: Dr Kannan Srinivasan
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