Seaweed Experimentation: Ray of Hope for the Coastal Belt Fishers’ Families Contributing Blue Economy in Bangladesh

Cultivating Oceanic Potential: Seaweed Farming's Role in Bangladesh's Economic Growth

December 31, 2023

By Ramiz Uddin, PhDHead of Experimentation, UNDP Accelerator Lab, Bangladesh.

Sangita Paul, Research Officer (Data Analyst), UNDP Research Facility, Bangladesh.

Samiha Sima, Experimentation and Innovation Associate, UNDP Accelerator Lab, Bangladesh

Seaweed is a type of aquatic resource that naturally grows in salty water of the sea, or rocks below the high-water marks. This sea algae are rich in iodine, vitamins, minerals and essential antioxidant that helps human body to fight against different diseases. In others part of the world, many countries experimenting this aquatic plant as a food supplement with intent to ensure an alternative food source. Although seaweed as a food supplement has not been very famous in our country among the people but experts believe that seaweed cultivation would be an alternative source of income for the Bangladeshi farmers in near future. Our farmers are increasingly becoming interested in seaweed cultivation as a source of income generation in blue economy.

Figure 1: Multiple usage of seaweeds

Potentials of seaweed farming in Bangladesh: 

Seaweed production does not require any land, additional fertilizer, or pesticide. All it needs only the sunlight and the seawater. And it naturally grows in the coastal belt offshore areas. Bangladesh is the dearest child of the nature and has all the natural energy to produce seaweed to boost the country’s economy. About 32 types of seaweed are abundant along the coast of Bangladesh, where 14 of these species are commercially viable but only four variants are being farmed, that too on a small scale. 

Figure 2: Economic value of seaweeds (Global and Bangladesh data)

Opportunities in Seaweed Production: 

The UNDP funded ‘Blue Economy Component for Creating Economic Opportunities in Cox’s Bazar’ programme, in collaboration with Women Chamber of Commerce (WCC) has been undertaken ‘Capacity building for seaweed production’ to train the seaweed farmers to commercially produce seaweeds to meet the market demands. This program has involved coastal men, women, and youths from the local fishing communities of Cox’s Bazar to add additional income for their living expenses.

Photo 1: Capacity Development in seaweed production training receivers.

After obtaining training and project support, the beneficiaries of the pilot project are currently producing and marketing organic and seaweed, which is an extremely amazing outcome of the project. All pertinent parties, including district administration, the Cox's Bazar Development Authority, the Department of Fisheries, the Cox's Bazar Chamber of Commerce, the Cox's Bazar Women Chamber of Commerce, the Tourism Board, the Tour Operator Association, etc., have been connected to the Oceanic component of this project.

Photo 2&3: After session seaweed cultivation by the training receiver

Safe seaweed production, packaging, and marketing in Cox's Bazar can be significantly changed by scaling up all the lessons and triumphs gained from working with beneficiaries of seaweed. Because of this, local manufacturers will be able to create high-quality goods, which will raise their worth and enable them to compete on both the domestic and global markets.  This is due to the enormous potential for a project including the cultivation, processing, and promotion of seaweed in Cox's Bazar. Here are a few possible advantages:

  • Local farmers can get a new source of income from seaweed farming and processing, and the processing and packaging sectors can add jobs. 
  • Seaweed is very nutritious and can be a significant source of food and nutrition for local communities. This can help reduce poverty and improve livelihoods in the area. It contains a lot of protein, few fats, and vitamins and minerals. Adding seaweed to regional cuisine can also enhance meal variety and flavour.
  • Seaweed farming can be environmentally sustainable, as it does not require freshwater or fertilizers and can help mitigate the impacts of climate change by sequestering carbon. Seaweed can also improve water quality and provide habitat for marine life.
  • Seaweed has a growing demand in international markets, particularly in the food, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries. Cox's Bazar has the potential to tap into these markets and generate export earnings.
  • Seaweed has a long history of use in local cuisine and traditional medicine in Cox's Bazar. By promoting the cultivation and use of seaweed, the project can help preserve and promote local cultural traditions.

Existing problems in Seaweed farming: 

The main issues facing Bangladesh's seaweed sector include the lack of knowledge about seaweed farming, lack of technology, socioeconomic limitations, and a paucity of competent labour for harvesting wild seaweed. Experienced labour is needed for seaweed cultivation on a large commercial scale. Bangladesh may not have prioritized seaweed growing up until now due in part to a lack of skilled cultivators. Moreover, Bangladeshi seaweed growers face a number of challenges, such as natural disasters, insufficient funding, and a dearth of appropriate rules and regulations.

Figure 3: Existing problems in seaweed farming

Recommended strategies to promote seaweed industry: 

In 2020, 390 tonnes of seaweed were produced by more than 300 coastal households in Bangladesh at Nuniarchara, Inani beach, and Reju canal in Cox's Bazar. If the full potential of this economic gem is realized, the industry might expand tremendously and generate over 0.1 million new jobs for residents of the coastal districts.

According to a study conducted by a group of researchers and oceanographers, Bangladesh has 24,077 square kilometres of coastal waters within 0–10-meter depth that may be suitable for seaweed production. Tapping the potentials, our fishers/farmers families in the coastal areas of Cox’s Bazar, Kuakata, and Saint Martins’ Island can produce seaweed on larger scale and export them to the global markets where demands are usually higher.

Seaweed makes a significant contribution to the ecology, environment, and economy alike. The government ought to play a major role in promoting seaweed food given its boundless potential for seaweed farming, nutritional value, extensive usage in the pharmaceutical, animal feed, and fertilizer industries, as well as its promising economic future.

Training programs and demonstrations could be used to connect Bangladeshi cultivators with the skilled cultivators in Bangladesh. A few hundred thousand tons of seaweed can be successfully produced annually in most south-east Asian nations. There's no reason Bangladesh can't do the same. In short, seaweed is essential to the overall health of the human and oceanic ecosystems. Let's take advantage of this chance and grab it!

Dive into the Blue Revolution! Join us in nurturing seaweed farming for economic prosperity and environmental sustainability. Together, we can empower coastal communities and unlock the full potential of Bangladesh's blue economy.