New project to aid seaweed R&D in developing nations

seaweed and squid displayed at North Point wet market
Copyright: Panos

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  • Diseases and pests contribute to 15 per cent seaweed yield decline
  • New project aims to sustain seaweed in developing countries
  • Project could benefit rural, coastal communities in Africa and Asia

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[NAIROBI] An initiative has received funding for research and development to address disease and pest infestations threatening the global seaweed industry, especially in developing countries.
The outbreaks are causing dramatic 15 per cent yield declines, particularly in three major seaweed-producing countries of Tanzania, Philippines and Indonesia, resulting in catastrophic socio-economic impacts on communities, according to the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).

“We believe that this programme will produce actual and virtual resources which will be available to the global seaweed community.”

Elizabeth Cottier-Cook, The Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS)


Elizabeth Cottier-Cook, head of SAMS, an associate institute of the United Nations University who leads the project, told SciDev.Net last month (10 August) that the GlobalSeaweed programme will promote the use of molecular detection techniques and geographical information systems software to accurately diagnose key yield-limiting seaweed diseases and pests.  
“We believe that this programme will produce actual and virtual resources which will be available to the global seaweed community, and [also] provide cutting-edge research which will provide key evidence to underpin new trade policies and legislation which will help to minimise introductions of disease and pests in the future,” she told SciDev.Net.
The four-year, £5 million (about US$6.5 million) project launched on 21 July, forms part of collaborative projects funded by the UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).
According to Cottier-Cook, the project aims to close the knowledge gap between farmers and scientists, bringing benefits to the sector and ensuring seaweed-producing communities are empowered.
It will provide technical and farming capacity through training by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, and also deliver a digital atlas of seaweed diseases and pests within the first two years of the project.  
They will build the capacity of people from seaweed-producing developing nations by providing technical and professional skills training to postgraduates, early career researchers, industry, governments and nongovernmental organisations engaged in seaweed cultivation and policy generation through online and face-to-face events to share best practices.  
“We will be establishing the GlobalSeaweed Fund to provide research grants to enable developing countries engaged in seaweed cultivation to rapidly react to emerging crises and travel grants to foster even greater international collaboration on seaweed research,” said Cottier-Cook. “We intend to produce biosecurity protocols, early warning predictive tools and legislative structures, which will be tailored to the seaweed industry.”
Betty Nyonje, principal research scientist with the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, adds that the project could benefit many poor rural dwellers of coastal communities in Africa, the Pacific and South East Asia, citing countries such as Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique and Tanzania in the Western Indian Ocean region that have introduced seaweed farming.  

According to Nyonje, seaweed farming requires low capital investment: “Besides seedlings and minimal farm implements, there is no requirement for inputs such as fertiliser and fresh water.”

The plants clean the sea of pollutants by absorbing nutrients from the water, and the plant biomass removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thereby contributing towards climate change mitigation.
Nyonje adds that  information and knowledge gaps such as mapping of suitable sites for seaweed farming, developing novel farming techniques and high value seaweed strains exist in Africa, and also cites the lack of selection of indigenous strains to diversify farmed species, value chain products development as well as understanding seaweed marketing and market linkages as key challenges.
Nyonje urges the project implementers to look beyond seaweed mapping and provide long-term solutions for sustainable seaweed industry in developing countries, particularly those in Africa.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.