By Johnny R. Lee, Ph.D.
It will be recalled, in one of my earliest write-ups in this paper, how the seaweeds industry has impacted the life of 30,000 local seaweed farmers in the province of Tawi-Tawi.
This above number adds up if we count the ‘supply chain’ which includes on-site seaweed buyers , middlemen, and capitalist/warehouse owners. Not to mention the labor sector and local sari-sari store owners whose goods and merchandise are cashing-on on the ‘seaweed money’ circulating after their harvest had been sold out to the buyers. And even the toddlers can earn a good sum of money by just picking left-overs or ‘breakages’ from the mother plants if only to emphasize that indeed seaweeds, which has been dubbed as the ‘green gold’, are likened to a ‘manna’ from heaven to the struggling and poor sector of the province.
In the year 2010 alone, Tawi-Tawi has recorded 36 million metric tons of dried seaweeds estimated to be worth US$67 Million in the world market. Translated into philippine peso it would be around P3 Billion! (By the way seaweeds and its derivatives, the carrageenan, is said to have 1,0001 uses for industrial, pharmaceuticals, food additives, health and wellness components, etc.) Although it has its ‘ups and down’ , the trend did continue until it caught up with the world pandemic – which is the era of Covid19.
The world market for dried seaweed and its vital derivatives the carrageenan has been shut down and this goes down the line that affects the thousands of seaweed farmers and their dependents. Although there are a number of seaweed entrepreneurs in the locality who buy and stock it – in the hope that it will rebound in a few months time – their forecast failed them because it’s almost two years running and the pandemic is still around.
The prospect of getting back to its former status in terms of production and bringing back the ‘manna’ is uncertain in every measure nowadays. The seaweed industry is on the brink of collapse.
‘But not totally’ according to one prominent seaweed farmer. He confided that this (pandemic) is just a ‘test’ to their faith in one God the Almighty who controls the universe. There will come a time that ‘it will just go away like a thief in the night’ and we shall be back to the field farming this precious gift from heaven’.