The Vizhinjam grama panchayat has embarked on a unique project for commercial cultivation of seaweed as a means to improve the livelihood means of the coastal population.
The pilot project seeks to open up a new job opportunity, mainly for the youth and womenfolk in fishermen colonies. Unemployed youth from the coastal area will be imparted training in scientific cultivation of seaweeds. Scientists from the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI) will train the beneficiaries.
The project has been taken up under the Women Scientist Programme of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. A pilot study conducted by M.S. Bindu, principal investigator, revealed that the calm sea off the coast of Vizhinjam was ideal for acclimatisation and culture of Kappaphycus alvarezii, a commercially important species of algae.
According to V. Sobha, Head, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Kerala, the algae identified for commercial cultivation has high potential for application in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. Commonly called `guzo' or `tambalang,' the red seaweed is the raw material for the manufacture of kappa carrageenan, an additive used in foodstuff like ice cream, sauce, ham, sausage and chocolate drinks as well as in cosmetics and pharmaceutical products.
Farming of the seaweed is popular in the Philippines, Indonesia, Fiji, Micronesia, Vietnam, China and South Africa. In India, mariculture of the seaweed started in the mid nineties. Fisherfolk in Tamil Nadu have been engaged in commercial farming of the species for years.
Ms. Sobha said Kappaphycus alvarezii was selected for the project because of its low toxicity and immense commercial potential. The seedlings are planted in bundles of rope tied to a bamboo raft which is left to drift in the coastal waters. A buoy will be fixed to the raft to identify its position. The algae thrive on the nutrients absorbed from seawater.
The seedlings for the project are to be procured from the CMFRI unit at Mandapam in Tamil Nadu. The seaweed can be harvested in three months after which the raft and rope bundles are repaired for recultivation.
Ms. Sobha said the minimum investment and high returns would make the project an appealing option to supplement the income of fisherfolk families. "The panchayat could think of a buy-back arrangement with food and pharmaceutical companies interested in the product," she added.
Vizhinjam grama panchayat president Asuntha Mohan said the project was designed to provide an alternate means of livelihood for the impoverished families in the coastal belt. As many as 20 families have been selected for the pilot project.
Self help groups have been mobilised from the fishermen colonies. While the manufacture of the rafts would be entrusted to women, the men would be tasked with keeping a watch on the rafts at sea.
Ms. Mohan said moves were on to reach out to companies interested in buying the seaweed. "We are trying to work out a permanent mechanism to sell the produce. A buy-back arrangement will be finalised in time," she said.
The project will be launched on Saturday at a function to be held at the People's Training Centre, Vizhinjam. T. Sakthivel, president, Aquaculture Foundation of India, is scheduled to deliver the keynote address. The inaugural function will be followed by a training session for the beneficiaries.