Improving seaweed production and processing opportunities in Indonesia - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Improving seaweed production and processing opportunities in Indonesia

The aim of this project is to support Indonesia to maximise economic and nutritional benefits from commercial seaweed production. Research activities focus on cultivating and processing promising seaweed species, and developing sought-after new products.

  • analyse value chains to identify seaweed production constraints and knowledge gaps
  • improve seaweed quality at the farm level
  • create innovative products from seaweeds and their processed waste streams
Whole-value-chain approach

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of red seaweeds, and seaweed culture is one of the main income-generating opportunities for many coastal communities, particularly in eastern Indonesia.

In 2014, Indonesia's seaweed exports were valued at around US$200 million. Although production is reportedly increasing at about 30% per annum, there is opportunity to improve seaweed quality, processing procedures and utilisation of waste streams across the industry.

Indonesian seaweed production is focused on two main products: carrageenan, which is a thickening agent used in a range of processed foods and products including ice cream and toothpaste; and agar which is widely used as a gelling agent for foods.

A major focus of this project is developing new products and accessing new markets to diversify these currently-limited value chains. The project also aims to expand production of seaweeds used for direct human consumption in Indonesia, particularly the ‘green caviar’ Caulerpa species (pictured).

As of July 2017, researchers were characterising the value chains (i.e. activities from farm gate through to the consumer) of seaweed species to understand the flow and values of raw and processed materials.

The project team has surveyed seaweed farmers (seed producers and those in cultivation), traders (collectors, small and large traders, exporters) and processors (carrageenan, agar and food). This information will help identify knowledge gaps and other constraints where technical interventions could improve production and processing.

Diverse strains of seaweed have been collected from the major domestic production areas and cultured at the Seaweed Culture Research Centre in Sulawesi for a national nursery.

A ’common garden’ experiment is underway comparing 10 different strains of Kappaphycus at scale sourced from cultivation areas in nine provinces: Lampung (Lokal and Kuljar), Banten, West Nusa Tenggara (Lombok), East Nusa Tenggara (Kupang), East Kalimantan (Bontang), West Sulawesi (Mamuju), North Sulawesi (Minahasa Utara) and South Sulawesi (Bantaeng and Pangkep).

As this work progresses, it will help industry establish better on-farm practices to enhance the quality of seaweeds, including improved gel strength and dried seaweed colour. Farm-level production of new seaweed species will also be evaluated.

These seaweeds and their waste streams will be developed into innovative products using sophisticated techniques to extract high-value biochemicals, evaluate new extraction processes, and create alternative products from the liquid and solid waste streams from industrial processing of carrageenan and agar.

This project will also provide many livelihood opportunities for local people, i.e. women’s groups in coastal villages will undertake post-harvest processing to produce value-added products. Some of the women’s groups are more than 10 years old and have developed a broad range of seaweed-based products including crackers (kerupuk), candy (gula-gula, dodol), jelly (selai), balls (bakso) and seaweed snacks (kue rumput laut).

As well as providing economic benefits, social benefits will flow from self-learning and new group support mechanisms.