Bangladesh is a small, densely populated country of 147,570 square kilometres where around 168.31 million people are huddled together. It is expected that the total population of Bangladesh will rise up to 175.4 million by 2024.
Every day, the country is losing roughly 225 hectares of land due to urban sprawl and industrialisation, causing an overall decrease of one percent of arable land each year. Besides, the rates of malnutrition in Bangladesh are among the highest in the world. More than 54 percent of preschool-aged children, equivalent to more than 9.5 million children, are stunted, 56 percent are underweight and more than 17 percent are wasted.
So, how will Bangladesh ensure food and nutrition security for its increasing population in 2024? This is certainly a big question. Seaweed farming can be a suitable solution.
Seaweed is a marine alga enriched with protein, carbohydrates, beta-carotene, minerals, vitamins, essential amino acids etc. While solving the problem of food and nutrition security of the increasing population of Bangladesh, seaweed can also open up a new business horizon for the country.
Due to massive demand for seaweed in the food, medical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and chemical industries, overall production and market size of seaweed experienced tremendous growth over the last 10 years. In 2007, the world seaweed production was about 15 million tonnes. It reached approximately 29 million tonnes in 2016, with a 97 percent increase each year. The market value of the seaweed industry also increased proportionately with its production, rising from $6.08 billion to $11.45 billion.
Asia is the market leader of seaweed industry, sharing 99 percent of the global seaweed production. Total worldwide seaweed production was 28.85 million tonnes in 2016 and 28.68 million tonnes of that came from Asia.
A major percentage of seaweed production in Asia comes from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea, Japan and India. Between 2007 and 2016, these countries have made significant progress in seaweed production.
Despite having an abundance of seaweed species, a coastal zone of 480km coastline and 25,000 square kilometres of coastal area with favourable climatic and environmental conditions for seaweed production, Bangladesh is still lagging behind. While ensuring food and nutrition security, Bangladesh can also earn a great deal of money from seaweed farming.
One of the major problems for promoting seaweed farming in the coastal areas is the extremely low price. According to the Agricultural Information Service (AIS) of the Bangladesh government, the international price for Bangladeshi seaweed in the global market is $16/kg (Tk1280/kg).
In 2015, Falcon International Ltd exported 1,000kg dry seaweed from Bangladesh and earned $16,000. But seaweed farmers are usually getting Tk56-80 for per kg of dry seaweed. A proper market platform and a working market system are greatly needed for seaweed farmers so that they can get the fair price of their products and thus become inspired to produce more.
It is the high time for the Bangladesh government, NGOs and private companies to work collaboratively, and establish seaweed farming as a sustainable industry in order to ensure food and nutrition security for our increasing population, and improve the livelihoods of the coastal farmers.
Once this seaweed industry is established, Bangladesh will also be able to earn a huge amount of foreign currency that will eventually help its economy thrive and boom.
Tanmoy Kumar Ghose completed his M.Sc in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security from Bangladesh Agricultural University.