Taking a Closer Look at the Tawi-Tawi Seaweed Industry

By Johnny R. Lee

Can the Tawi-Tawi seaweed industry bring back its old glory years when things are back to normal? 

As emphasized in my previous posts regarding the seaweed industry, life among the 30k coastal families, who engaged in cultivating this ‘green gold’ from the sea, has never been so good. 

My research, which became a part of my doctoral dissertation, indicates that the seaweed industry has become a ‘life-changing’ industry for almost all the seaweed farmers who engaged in it. It is one of the main reasons that Tawi-Tawi extricates itself from the top 20 of the poorest of the poor  provinces in the Philippines.

Seaweed industry is a ‘family enterprise’ where everyone in the family is involved. The father is usually the one who carries the heavy burden. He is the one who takes the ‘ready-made’ seaweed strands or cultivars to the field while the rest of the members stay at home and are responsible for ‘attaching’ the newly cut strands (also known as seedlings) to a long nylon line (at least 10 meters). The ready-made-at-home propagules/cuttings from the mother plant are ferried away to a nearby coastal area and therein stretched between two staked poles and left to grow. Within 45 days, the seaweed matures and is ready to harvest, sun-dried (2-3 days) , sacked and sold to seaweed buyers. Buying price of dried seaweeds, pre-pandemic time, was at P45-60 per kilogram. 

Depending on the size of their farm plots, a family usually earns at least an  net average of  P10,000-15,000 per month after a 45-day planting season. This is already a good income. Compared to their previous occupation as traditional coconut farmers and fishermen, said family incomes from seaweed farming  are far better. The buying price of copra that time was only at P20.00 per kilogram. The latter entails tedious preparation and processes before it reaches the buyer. Also, coconuts have a longer number of days (50-60 days) before they can be harvested. And so the almost 360 degree turnaround to embrace the seaweed’s preferences as lucrative source of income.

Human development indicators such as family income, number of children attending schools, type of houses built, properties acquired, savings, lifestyles and other basic needs are all ‘positives’ when my research was conducted in 2015. The trend continued but was uncertain in this time of pandemic. JRL

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