Agri-Commodities – Business Mirror
Written by Danny O. Calleja / Correspondent
Monday, 31 August 2009 21:21
PILAR, Sorsogon—For fisherman Ramiro Panganiban, 43, of this remote coastal town, his successful venture into seaweed farming started from plain curiosity.
From drift-gill net fishing that allowed him to feed his family on a mere subsistence level, he shifted to seaweed farming learned from fellow fishermen six years ago.
“I was driven by my curiosity when I started with it. I just tried exploring the possibility of better earnings,” Panganiban told the BusinessMirror over the weekend.
At that time, he also learned about the seaweed project of the municipal government here where he became one of the farmer-cooperators and appointed chairman of the Seaweed Farmers and Traders Association (SFTA) in his barangay of Dao, Panganiban narrated.
The seaweed showcase project was under the community-based participatory action research in the municipality implemented by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) regional office for Bicol, Sorsogon State College (SSC) and the Pilar local government unit.
Implementation of the project in 11 coastal barangays of this third-class municipality by the northern coastlines of Ticao Pass was started in 2003. The barangay Dao SFTA then was composed only of three seaweed farmers including Panganiban as chairman.
As farmer-cooperators, the group was provided with the project materials for seaweed farming such as straw, rope, a banca and 15 kilograms of seeds as starter. Two years later, the group grew to 138 members.
“My only motivation then in engaging into this venture was the projected additional income that I could raise and take home to my family. My fellow farmer-cooperators and I were optimistic it would bring about changes in our economic lives even as we were not much aware of the statistics of seaweed production,” Panganiban said.
He said that a little bit later, “we came to learn about the importance of this crop to one person’s life and the economy of the country. With the learning and assistance shared to us by BAR, BFAR and SSC ranging from seaweed-farming technology to marketing, we were able to turn things better for us.”
Asked about the benefits he and his fellow farmers get from seaweeds farming, Panganiban answered jubilantly, “Plenty!”
In a span of three years, each one of them was able to own a boat, earned enough for the basic needs of their family, sent their children to school, put up savings and improved their houses from wood and nipa shanties to concrete with galvanized-iron roofing, he said.
“Before seaweed farming, all we could afford after a long day of fishing was a kilo of rice and a few more coins for table salt, coffee and sugar. Now, we buy rice in sacks and stockpile groceries at home good enough until the next seaweed harvest season,” Panganiban said.
From the 250-square-meter farm that he maintains, Panganiban said he could harvest an average of 900 kilograms of fresh seaweeds per harvest that when dried and sold earns him P50,000. A whole year allows two harvest seasons for cultured seaweeds.
“Since we are members of SFTA, marketing and pricing of our produce is not a problem. The association serves as a sure market outlet for them,” he explained.
The most widely cultivated species of seaweed here is the Eucheuma (Kappaphycus alvarezii) species due to its high marketability and demand compared to seaweeds like K. striatum or Saccul and the spinosum type now known as E. denticulatum, Panganiban said.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, commercial production of seaweeds through farming is at present limited to a few countries in East Asia, making it a high-value crop with great demand in the world market. The Philippines is noted for the culture of seaweeds particularly Eucheuma and Caulerpa) along with Japan, China, Korea and Taiwan.
Eucheuma has two types: the cottonii (guso) and the spinosum (agar-agar). Both of them can be exported in dried forms. Of these two, cotonnii grows faster and is easier to farm.
Panganiban also explained that propagation of seaweeds requires a body of water where they are endemic and abundant in algae eel grasses and sea animals. The sea bottom should be of hard sand or rocks with the water moving and holding the seaweed loosely. Water depth should be at one or two feet at low tide.
“Our seawater here passed that requirement, that is why we now consider our place a mine of gold because of the benefits we are deriving from seaweeds,” he said.
And because seaweed farming is not very much time-demanding, Panganiban said he could still perform his old fishing activity, this time with a larger drift-gill net he had purchased out of his earnings from his newfound venture.
“Additional income and fish for food of my family, that’s it,” he said.