Seaweed farming (Eiseman, 1986)

Fred B. Eiseman Junior, in below article, describes in minute detail the history of seaweed farming in Bali. He makes mention of the most important species of seaweeds, discusses the technicalities of the way seaweed is farmed, the way it is processed, and gives an overview of the (multinational) companies, the Indonesian Government and research bodies that have attributed to the 'art' of seaweed farming, leading up to the year 1986, when this  economic activity was to prove such a vital source of income for the inhabitants of the coastal regions of Nusa Penida. 

Subtiles and additional comments in square brackets by author GD. An Indonesian translation is forthcoming; all photographs taken by author GD along the north coast of Nusa Penida (2007-2009).

A history of seaweed farming in Bali, and how it all began in Nusa Penida

seaweed farmers

Image above: seaweed at north coast of Nusa Penida (Godi Dijkman, 2009)

(p.137) There is nothing new about using seaweed for commercial purposes. The collection of wild seaweeds for various purposes is such an ancient industry that its origins cannot be determined. Even in Bali, those who live long along the coast have collected seaweed for as long a period of time as we have written records. The innovation has been the introduction of scientific methods for actually farming special strains of seaweed, harvesting them on a continuing basis, treating seaweed as any other crop plant like rice, and exporting the harvest to foreign countries, where it eventually ends up being marketed by huge multinational corporations. The commercial farming of seaweed has exciting economic and cultural implications for Indonesia in general and Bali in particular. And since it is an activity that is generally carried out in areas that are well off the normal tourist routes, it is worthwhile to record the facts as they now (1986) exists, with hopes that this treatment will give the visitor a perspective on yet another interesting facet of Balinese culture in change.

Rumput laut - Bulung

Bahasa Indonesia's colorful word for seaweed is Rumput Laut, sea hair. In Balinese it is referred to as Bulung. Of course, the word seaweed refers to an enormous diversity of plants of many genera and species. All, however, are members of the groups of primitive plants that have no true leaves, stems, or roots, the algae. Almost all algae contain chlorophyll, but not all are green, because other pigments may mask the green color. Thus, many appear red, brown, or blue-green. But, the chlorophyll is still there, and thus all but a few genera of algae are able to carry out photosynthesis. Members of this group range from one-celled plants such as found as the scum on fresh water ponds, to giant sea kelp, individual members of which range up to as long as 45 meters (150 ft), comparable with the largest land plants.

Europeans and Americans consume only an insignificant amount of marine algae directly as food. But, in the Orient, certain algae have been used for countless years either directly as food or made into sauces, soups, and condiments. And, in Japan, the commercial farming of certain seaweeds for local consumption has been carried out for many years, The use of unicellular algae as a basis for food has periodically aroused attention, which has focused on the genus Chlorella, which is not only highly efficient in its use of solar energy in converting carbon dioxide and water into food, but also can be raised in such environments that will give it a high protein content or a high fat content, as desired. Under favorable conditions, Chlorella will multiply eightfold in a single day. Its potential as food for underdeveloped countries has not been realized. But, experiments have been encouraging, even to the extent of preparing Chlorella ice cream.

But perhaps the most widespread use of wild algae has been in the preparation of agar-agar, or, as it is now usually called, agar. The adjective "wild" implies mixed strains of algae that occur naturally in an uncultivated state, with no attempt made to maintain the source on a sustained basis. Agar appears on the market as a tan powder. It has the (p.138) unique property of absorbing considerable quantities of water and setting to a firm gel. As such, its best known use is in the preparation of bacteriological culture media. But, it is best known in the Orient as a stiffening agent in certain food products and is sold in envelops in most Oriental markets for that purpose. All one has to do is add it to hot water, stir, and whatever is mixed with the mixture will set to a gel when it cools. Agar is usually obtained from the red alga Gelidium by a somewhat involved process of extraction. Most of it is produced in Japan, where there are an estimated 432 small, cottage industry type factories for its production. Compared with other extracts from seaweed, Agar is not big in business worldwide. About 5,000 metric tons represent the total annual production, about ten percent of the total world production of seaweed extracts. It is, however, higher priced than these other materials.

Wild seaweed: Gracilaria gigas

For many years Balinese seacoast dwellers have been gathering wild seaweed. The species Gracilaria gigas, called Bulung Sangu, is especially productive of new growth around Sasih Kaulu, which is, roughly, February. It is bought by exporters or their agents and sent to japan for conversion to agar, in which it is rich. The smaller wild seaweeds, Gellidium sp. and Hypnea sp., called Bulung Bulun Ayam (chicken feather seaweed), and Bulung Merak, (peacock seaweed) grow all year long. The two are usually not separated, since this is difficult and unnecessary, and are used for making the popular snack called Jaja Bulung. This is nothing more than sweetened agar, without any rice flour added. It is sold in all principle markets as a brown, rather firm gel that can be cut into squares. The production methods are simple. The algae is gathered as it grows in the inter-tidal zone and then spread out in the sun to dry. A favorite place for doing this is along roads near the beach because that way no sand gets into the seaweed and the black road surface gets quite hot in the sun. It is washed with water in which lime has been dissolved, dried again, and this process repeated until the resulting product is a pale tan color. It is sold in flat, round, lacy mats in most village markets. In the dry form it will keep indefinitely. To use it, one merely shreds up the disc and puts in in boiling water. When the water cools, the mixture will solidify into a gel.

seaweed children banjarnyuh

Image above: children & seaweed drying at north coast of Nusa Penida (Godi Dijkman, 2009)


But, the most useful extract from seaweed is a material that was originally, and still is produced from a type of seaweed called Irish Moss, a purplish, edible red algae, Chondrus crispus, found on the rocky shores of Northern Europe and North America. It has ben used for many years as a solidifying agent in jams, jellies, lotions and medicines. Most particularly, it has been used as the gelling agent in the dessert known as blanc-mange, rather like semi-firm, molded gelatin substance, popular in the Europe and America of a more relaxed era. The active ingredient in this algae was named for an Irish town, Carragheen, near which the seaweed was plentiful. This explains the odd spelling of the word. The chemical is known as carrageenan, pronounced with a hard "c" as in "cart" and a soft "g" as in "geology". Emphasis is upon the first and penultimate syllables, so that it turns out something like KAR-a-GEE-nan.

(p.139) About 15,000 metric tons of carrageenan are produced annually in the world. Most of it is used in food products as a thickener and gelling agent and stabilizer, normally in concentrations of less than 1%. It is an excellent suspending agent for such things as the particles of chocolate in chocolate milk. It gives the smooth, creamy feel to ice cream, the desired stiffness to toothpaste, the body to jams and jellies, and the ability of liquid salad dressings to keep their spices in suspension. It adds creaminess to cottage cheese, stabilizes iced lollipops, glues the fruits on to fruit cake, prevents cream cheese from exuding water, thickens milkshakes, and produces the desired texture in puddings and multi-layered desserts. In short, carrageenan is a virtual necessity in the modern food industry. And, it has the virtue of being totally harmless in and of itself, and 100% "natural", which is a distinct advantage in the advertising parlance of today.

Carrageenan is marketed in commercial quantities by two large multinational corporations in the United States, Hercules Incorporated and FMC Corporation, both of which have sales in the 3 to 5 billion dollar a year range, and both of which are highly diversified companies, having interests in a wide variety of industries ranging from military hardware and explosives to pharmaceuticals. Since carrageenan is an important article of commerce, these companies, and others, have been active in exploring potential sources of raw materials. And, since the seaweeds that have until recently provided the only source of carrageenan were almost entirely of the wild variety, the desired goal was to introduce more scientific methods of aquaculture so that the seaweed could be harvested on a regular, self-sustaining basis and so that the product would be reasonably uniform and the supply dependable.

Demand for carrageenan got to such a level by 1966 that some of the producers of carrageenan were stirred into action. Attention was immediately concentrated upon the genus Eucheuma, as probably the most potentially promising source of carrageenan. Pronunciation is you-KEY-ma. There are several species of the genus Euchema in Indonesia. The most important of them are E. spinosum and E. cottoni. These are called in Balinese Bulung Batu Kembang or Bulung Agar Kembang, for the former, and Bulung Katonik for the latter. And there are three different types of carrageenan, called kappa, iota and lambda, which refer to the slight but important differences in the chemical structure of the carrageenan molecule. Lambda carrageenan is not useful. Kappa carrageenan produces a gel that is stiff and firm. It is found chiefly in E. carrageenan in E. spinosum. Color is not a reliable characteristic by which to distinguish between these two most important species of Eucheuma because the color that the weed assumes is dependent to a considerable extent upon the environment in which the plant was raised. In general, however, spinosum, as the name implies, tends to be spiny-like in appearance, with thin, sharp projections, whereas cottoni strands are thicker and the whole structure is more coarse, with round nodules. Either one can be brown or green, depending upon the local environments.

Because demand was so great in the late 60's seaweeds were harvested (p.140) in a totally uncontrolled fashion, with quantity dominating quality. But, the raw materials were needed, and companies paid good prices - up to US$630 per metric ton, FOB. At that time almost all of the wild seaweed was harvested in Sulawesi, Maluku, East Nusa Tenggara, and in nearby islands. Some was produced in the western islands, such as Bangka, but these areas have never been major suppliers. The chief exporting port has always been Ujung Pandang, Sulawesi. Indonesia has been exporting Eucheuma, as well as other species since World War II.


Image above: seaweed drying at north coast of Nusa Penida (Godi Dijkman, 2009)

From Belize to the Philippines, and Bali

Some early experimental work in commercial farming was done along the coast of Belize, formerly British Honduras. Then attention shifted to Micronesia. But, as far as multinational corporations are concerned, political stability is just as important as anything else, and the politics of Ponape, Yap and Palau were not felt to be conducive to long term capital investment. Seaweed culture experiments in Indonesia were started as early as 1967 in the Pulau Seribu area, a group of islands in the Java Sea just north of Jakarta. The project was halted when its director passed away. Experiments in the Riau Islands area, along the west coast of Sumatera, between 1976 and 1977 were not fruitful. Still other attempts at sustained farming were made in the Samarinda Island reed off the east coast of Sulawesi in 1975, but these were not successful either.

In 1978 South Bali became the focal point for experimental work in seaweed farming because problems with seasonality became obvious in the Sulawesi operation. Once a particular species is selected for growing, marine biologists have to decide which of the many strains of the species is best suited for the chosen environment. There is always a wide variety of strains within a given species as a result of individual variation. Look at dogs, for example, all of which are of the same species. And strain selection is very important in commercial seaweed farming, just as it is in growing other food crops. A strain has to be selected that will fit the environment. Some factors to consider are temperature and temperature ranges, degree of salinity of the water, presence of predators, possible diseases, aeration of the water, currents, water depth, type of bottom, and others. The Copenhagen Pectine Factory Ltd, a subsidiary of the Hercules Inc. that did the early work in Sulawesi, chose the Cape Geger area of South Bali as offering considerable potential. This beach is about 2 km south of the newly developed Nusa Dua tourist area, just north of the point at which the beach gives way to steep cliffs on the south.

Until very recently, attention was primarily focused upon E. spinosum as the species of choice. The strains that gave the most promise were those obtained from earlier work in Sulawesi. About four hectares of E. spinosum were farmed in the years from 1980 through 1983 with reasonable good results, the production ranging from 30 to 75 metric tons. But, although the tonnage was considered good, the product was inferior in carrageenan content, apparently because the Cape Geger area was so good that the spinosum grew too rapidly. Thus the sponsoring company was not willing to increase production at the Cape Geger site.

(p.141) Meanwhile, the same Copenhagen Pectine Factory established a very successful E. spinosum facility in the Philippines. So successful was the project that the market was flooded with spinosum, prices fell, and the market collapsed, with a great deal of spinosum remaining unsold in 1980 and 1981. But, it became obvious to big business that the Philippines was not a country that appeared to have a politically stabile future. And the large corporations involved have decided that is they wanted to have an assured supply of a good quality they had better concentrate upon areas where the political climate has been stable and healthy. Thus, attention has once more focused upon Indonesia in general and Bali in particular. This renewal of activity was in part a result of increased world demand for carrageenan, but, as we shall see, demand and attention were shifting from iota carrageenan and E. spinosum to kappa carrageenan and E. cottoni.

seaweed farmer

Image above: seaweed at north coast of Nusa Penida (FNPF, 2010)

The Cape Geger area was too limited in extent for a large-scale operation. And, besides, the Indonesian Directorate General of Tourism felt that the seaweed farming area was too close to the tourist hotel development site. So other farm sites were explored. Those sites that were felt to have some potential included the coast just west of Tabanan, the Pengambengan area south of Negara, the area around Gilimanuk, the north coast just east of Pulaki, and most of the southeast coast between Karangasem and Sanur. Preliminary experiments were carried out by various companies and Indonesian Government agencies at Pengambengan and Gilimanuk. But, by far the most attractive site proved to be the narrow trait between Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan off the northwest coast of Nusa Penida, and the stretch of coast between Nusa Lembongan and Sampalan, along the north coast of Nusa Penida.

By January 1984, E, spinosum seedlings from Cape Geger had been distributed to fishermen at Lembongan village on Nusa Lembongan. The reef between the two small islands proved to be excellent. Within five months of the start monthly production was almost double that of 1983. And by the end of 1984 production had reached 400 metric tons. As of the present writing about 35 families at the Cape Geger operation, and newly developed area involves an infant industry on Pulau Serangan, Turtle Island, in the Benoa Harbor area, where about 30 families are engaged in seaweed farming. The Fisheries Office, Kantor Perikanan, in Denpasar estimates that a total of about 9,000 Balinese are involved in this relatively new developed industry.

There have been some efforts to establish strains of E. cottoni from the Philippines in Bali. Cottoni production far outweighs spinosum production in the Philippines, by a factor of about 15 to 1: 30,000 metric tons per year of cottoni vs. 2,000 metric tons per year for spinosum. The reasons for this change of emphasis are two-fold. Food additive producers are demanding more of the firmer-setting kappa carrageenan, of which cottoni is the better source. And, secondly cottoni has proved to be far superior to spinosum in its ease of farming, especially because it is more resistant to the diseases that attack seaweeds and which can wipe out a whole crop practically overnight. (p.142) But in Bali, unlike the Philippines, spinosum has become the additional seaweed, and it is difficult for the carrageenan producers to switch emphasis from one species to another. This can be done in the usual capitalistic way of simply paying more for the more desirable product and buying more of it. This is just what is being done. Farmers are currently being paid about Rp. 225 per kilogram for sun-dried spinosum, compared with about Rp. 450 per kg. for cottoni. And about twice as much cottoni is being purchased as spinosum, with hopes that the farmers will get the picture. But, that is just half of the strategy. Education is the other, and perhaps the more important half.

Growth rates of seaweed in Bali are about double those achieved in the Philippines. But, as mentioned above, this is s mixed blessing, because carrageenan content has, to date, been only about 75% that of the Philippines seaweeds. To those who play the numbers game, more production is indicative of better production. But, to the companies who buy and process the seaweed, consistent quality and high carrageenan content is essential. These companies feel that agronomic practices in Bali are not good, mainly because the farmers have not been taught how to go about their business properly. The U.S. based companies feel tat it is their job to educate the local people who work in family groups to help themselves. It is a big job to overcome some of the misinformation that has been disseminated and to fill in the gaps where there has been virtually no information at all. There are some obvious hazards to this, of course, encouraging efficient production methods, and perhaps even lending them money, there is no assurance that the farmers who benefit from all of this will sell their product to their benefactors, since the byers have no control over the ultimate decisions of the farmers about sales practices. But the carrageenan producers realize this and have begun to station their own byers in Bali who go to the farmers and pay cash for the crop - a practice that has not been followed by the middlemen who have previously been the people who buy direct from the farmers.

Wild Eucheuma seaweeds are usually found in the inter-tidal zones where there are sandy bottoms and a litter of coral fragments, usually with many other species of sea plants. Selecting a good site involves picking a spot that has an environment as nearly like that of the wild strains as possible. In general this means the lagoon inside of a coral reef where the salinity is stable at around 33 parts per thousand, where there are reasonably strong currents, and where water temperatures will not get too high because of stagnation. The crop can be easily damaged by wave action, so the protecting reef is a necessity. And the depth has to be such that the plants are still below water level at low tide, yet not so deep at high tide that insufficient sunlight can reach them.

seaweed farming

Image above: seaweed at north coast of Nusa Penida (FNPF, 2010)

How to farm seaweed

Most seaweed farming in Bali is done with the so-called stake, rope, and line method. The basic unit for farming has dimensions of 2,5 x 5 meters. Bamboo stakes at the corners of a rectangle of these dimensions are driven into the sandy bottom where the water is at the (p.143) proper depth, usually about waist to shoulder high, depending upon the stage of tide. Plastic rope, about 9mm. in diameter is tied between the pairs of stakes at the far ends of the rectangle, and from these crosswise ropes, 12 lines of rope are string lengthwise. Usually another pair of stakes is placed in the middle of the rectangle and a crosswise rope is tied between them in order to support the 5-meter span of lengthwise ropes. Each unit holds about 400 seedlings. Fifty units, each with an area of 2,5 x 5 = 12,5 sq. meters, make up a square, with an area of 50 x 12,5 = 625 sq. meters. And there are 16 squares (16 x 625 = 10,000) per hectare, which is a square 100 meters on each side, Thus, one can raise 400 x 50 x 16 = 320,000 seedlings per hectare. The seedlings generally weigh 75 to 100 grams each and are placed about 20 cm. above the bottom at 20 cm. intervals. If there is a problem with diseases or with abrupt changes in the temperature, the damaged seedlings should be placed in bamboo rafts to recover and then later replanted. This keeps them wet but away from the potential damaging environment that prevented proper development. Fish nets are placed around the growing area to prevent the escape of strands that have been broken off because of wave action.

An average family of 5 could take care of a minimum of about one-quarter hectare, or 80,000 plants. Based upon experience, this would produce about 20 metric tons of dried seaweed per year. At a current market value of about Rp. 225 per kilogram of dry spinosum, this would give the family a gross annual income of about Rp. 4,500,000, or about Rp. 375,000 per month, which is well above average for a Balinese family. And this figure is almost exactly that reported to me by a seaweed farmer in the Cape Geger area for his monthly income, so it seems reasonable. If productions were primarily cottoni, income would approximately double, since the going price for cottoni is about double that of spinosum. From this, of course, would have to be deducted the cost of seedlings, rope, and so on, most of which is either a one-time expense, such as seedlings, or re-usable, such as rope. And if the area of cultivation has been increased, the income increases almost in direct proportion.

seaweed granny

Image above: seaweed at north coast of Nusa Penida (Godi Dijkman, 2009)

Seedling: plant?

The term "seedling" is used in the trade even though algae are plants that do not produce seeds. After tying them carefully on the lines, all the farmers have to do is wait. After two weeks they harvest the crop by wading out into the water and picking off the long trailers, leaving a substantial amount on the lines for future growth. The seaweed is gathered in bamboo baskets that are equipped with plastic foam floats, brought ashore, and spread out on the beach to dry in the sun. This upsets the buyers and processors, of course, becuase it means that a quantity of sand is included. Better practice would involve drying on nets suspended above the sand, but this costs money. This is part of the education job that has to be done. The seaweed is then put in plastic sacks and stored in shacks on the beach to await a buyer.

In some of the seaweed farming areas, for example at the Geger beach, the farmers live in small shacks of woven bamboo mat right on the beach. Many of them have homes elsewhere, but they prefer to be (p.144) near their crop. At Geger there are about 25 houses spread out along about one kilometer of beach. From the shore, the farming area looks almost like any other stretch of beach, since the crop is submerged. All one can see are the tops of the stakes. The farmers prefer to work early in the morning when it is cool, because it takes a lot of work to rid the crop of unwanted weeds, re-tie broken seedlings, and repair wave damage. When work is being done there is again little to see, since operations are submarine. Bobbing heads and floating baskets are all that are visible.

There are at present four companies in Bali that buy seaweed for export. Methods of purchase vary widely. Up until now the farmer has seldom sold directly to the exporter. There are almost always intermediaries, each of whom takes his cut, so that, by the time the exporter gets the material, the price has more than doubled. As previously indicated, some American firms are taking steps to eliminate the middlemen, which they hope will not only assure their companies of a steady and dependable supply, but twill also assure the farmers of prompt payment in cash. Previous practices involve such matters are buyers advancing cash to the farmers for purchase of necessities and then making the rounds, collecting the seaweed by truck, if accessible to a road, or by hiring boat operators to pick up the seaweed, which is then charged against the cash advance. This gets things a bit complex, since accurate records are not usually kept by farmers, and they get the impression, which is undoubtedly true in many cases, that the buyers or boat captains are not paying them. Sometimes the boat owner is the buyer himself, going from beach to beach until he gets a load and then heading for the mainland of Bali to sell to one of the buying stations on the shore. Here the seaweed is usually washed to remove the inevitable sand and then dried, either on plastic tarps or on racks. The average moisture content of the exported product is about 30 to 35%, and this must ne determined accurately, since the importer is, in effect, paying for the shipment of water from Bali to, say, Denmark. And obviously the price he is willing to pay depends upon the water content. The buyer is not necessarily, and, in fact, not usually the exporter of seaweed. At any rate, the farmer has almost never sold directly to the exporter, and, as a result, the price goes up with every exchange, perhaps as much as 100%. Although Ujung Pandang has been the main port for exporting seaweed, Balinese seaweeds are now being sent to Surabaya by truck. And there is one exporter in the Bualu area that buys directly from the farmers. There are, of course, the usual complaints from the farmers that the buyers have not been prompt with payments. But, this eventually takes care of itself, as more buyers move in and adopt more businesslike practices.

seaweed mosaic

Image above: seaweed at north coast of Nusa Penida (Godi Dijkman, 2009)

Processing plants in Bali: not viable

There has been some thought given to the construction of carrageenan processing facilities right in Bali on the theory that Indonesia could thereby gain further foreign exchange by selling the finished product at a higher price, profiting from the value added by extraction. But, the consensus is that this would not be feasible. There are only 5 such plants in the world, two of them in Copenhagen, Denmark, owned by subsidiaries of Hercules and FMC. They are the destination of (p.145) all of the E. spinosum that is grown in Bali, These extraction plants are highly automated and employ relatively few people. Furthermore, the extraction of carrageenan from seaweed is carried out while the seaweed is wet. That is, extraction involves chopping up the seaweed in water suspension. Since a considerable part of the price of the seaweed involves payment for time spent drying it for export, having an extractions facility on the spot might even result in fewer jobs, since this part of the operation would be eliminated. So, even if it were economically feasible to build the plants in remote spots, which it is not, employment would benefit virtually not at all. Balinese seaweed is not the only raw material for carrageenan, and the Copenhagen factories use a blend of seaweeds collected worldwide. So the processing plants have to be located in places that are central to worldwide production, not just local production.

Thus far the Indonesian Government has not played a large role in the development of seaweed farming. Of course, foreigners who engage in research in Indonesia and who buy the Indonesian seaweed must necessarily have close liaisons with the Government,. But, most of the research and development has been done with private capital. An exception to this has been Badan Pengkajian dan Penerapan Teknologi, or PSPP, located in Jakarta, roughly translated as the Council for the Collection and Teaching of Technology. The Department of Fisheries, under de Ministry of Agriculture has had some input., A recent (1985) study of the seaweed industry in Bali has been prepared by the Faculty of Economics of Universitas Udayana, together with the Department of Industry's Bali office. But, the capital and expertise has come from foreign corporations who hope that their enlightened self-interest will benefit Indonesia and its economy as much as it will benefit them.

Accurate export figures are difficult to come by. But, a close estimate is that Indonesia exported about 955 metric tons of seaweed in the first five months of 1984, which, pro-rated, would make the year's total about 2,300 tons, down quite a bit from the 3,400 tons of 1983, but close to the 1982 production of 2,100 tons. Of these totals Denmark, Hong Kong and Singapore were the major recipients, with Japan coming in a poor fourth. it should be pointed out that most importers in Denmark, France and the USA get a considerable portion of their seaweed via Singapore.

According to the above-mentioned study made by the University and the Department of Industry, Bali's export of seaweed in 1983, the last year for which complete figures were available, was 413,3 metric tons, of which 370 tons was famed and 43,3 tons wild. This crop was worth US$ 15,283. This is an insignificant fraction of Bali's annual exports in 1983, which totaled about US$ 20 million. But, the industry is young and has a long way to go. Of this figure for seaweed exports, practically all was spinosum, a trend that carrageenan producers hope to reverse sharply, with resulting increased production.

The total area available for commercial seaweed farming in Bali is about 1,200 ha., but only 169 ha. is actually being used as of 1986.

(p.146). The average production per ha. is 45,9 metric tons on a wet basis. There is, of course, a considerable weight loss when the seaweed is dried. Prices vary considerably. Exporters are paying premium prices for E. cottoni, but whether they can continue to do so remains to be seen. The price for wet seaweed is only about Rp. 50 per kg.

seaweed nyuh

Image above: seaweed at north coast of Nusa Penida (Godi Dijkman, 2009)

The future (1986)

The future of the seaweed industry in Bali appears bright on the surface. At least two huge multinational companies are focusing considerable money, expertise and education in Bali to promote scientific, consistent seaweed farming of desirable strains with consistent quality. But, there have been violent price and market fluctuations in the recent past, which, if characteristic, might make the market in Bali so volatile as to become unattractive to farmers. Further, as production increases, it is possible that the market might become saturated, and prices would fall as a result. One takes some comfort from the fact that companies such as FMC Corporation, operating through its subsidiary, Marina Colloids, of Rockland, Mane, and Hercules Incorporated, operating through its subsidiary the Copenhagen Pectin factory, would not invest all of this time and money in a venture unless their predictions of the future were as bright as the picture presently seems.

It is possible that the recent change of government in the Philippines may restore that area to favor in the eyes of the large multinationals - at the expense of the Indonesian seaweed industry. But, at the moment, the crystal ball is too cloudy to make a prediction about the political stability of that area.

Seaweed farming is, as mentioned, a family business. There are no large companies that control the planting, harvesting and sales. For a developing country it is nearly an ideal sort of business. It is labor intensive. It requires little capital outlay. It utilizes areas that are not otherwise useful and does not infringe upon working or living spaces of others. It is non-polluting. Its is essentially non-seasonal. It is not dependent upon rainfall or irrigation or the use of fresh water that is scarce in Nusa Penida and near the Bukit. And it yields an exportable product that produces much needed foreign exchange for Indonesia. It is hard to conceive of an industry that could satisfy the needs of Indonesia as well as this.


  • Eiseman, Fred B. Jr. - Seaweed Farming in Bali, in: Bali, Sakala and Niskala, Vol.2, First Ed., Chapter 8, p.137-146, 1986

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