|Ensuring an Enduring Supply From a Unique Kind of Farmer
Natural seaweed – carrageenan and alginates – are part of countless products on the market, from chocolate milk to shampoo. And FMC is a leader in supplying these vital, versatile ingredients to manufacturers worldwide. To learn more about the uses of seaweed in everyday products, click here.
Like any natural resource, sound stewardship of this miracle crop from the sea is essential to maintaining an enduring supply. Through its BioPolymer Division, FMC promotes sustainable and regulated seaweed harvests – in both warm and cold waters around the world.
For example, in Norway, and in full cooperation with the Norwegian government, a fleet of private and FMC trawlers harvests the alginate growing in great abundance under the icy coastal waters, adhering to a prescribed sustainable management plan.
Diverse regions, practices
Seaweed here grows to maturity in five-year cycles. The beds of brown seaweed off Norway’s coast are divided into more than 400 fields. The crop is carefully harvested, by field, to allow nature to take its course. Specially designed rakes pull mature plants off the ocean floor while leaving young plants to repopulate the area. Similar managed harvests take place in Iceland, Morocco and off the coast of Canada.
In Australia, a very different approach is used. Seaweed is gathered as it washes ashore after a storm, before it gives way to the forces of nature.
In places like the Philippines, Indonesia, Tanzania and Madagascar, carageenophytes are cultivated and harvested in warm, shallow waters. Often, entire communities work to bring this commodity to market. In many cases, where subsistence living was previously the norm, communities have improved their standard of living because of this reliable cash crop.
Taking care of seaweed and its stewards
For these often remote regions, FMC BioPolymer was proactive in establishing standards for product consistency and worker health and safety. Training programs promote productivity gains while providing safety and health education, as well as guidelines for environmentally sustainable practices. Implementing these programs involves tapping into the local culture and value systems to uncover the needs of seaweed farmers and their families.
In a major supply area of Madagascar, for example, FMC donated the funds to build a school. Now the children of Nosy Ankao are assured a primary education in one of the best school buildings within 50 miles.
In Tanzania, local FMC employees noticed an increase in worker absences. They discovered that many locals battled malaria, primarily because they had no protection from mosquitoes. FMC ran campaigns to purchase mosquito netting and ultimately bought more than 1,500 nets for farming families.
FMC also instituted a “Footwear for Farmers” campaign. Planting, nurturing and harvesting an underwater crop left workers’ bare feet susceptible to wounds from stingrays and sea urchins. The campaign aimed to provide 500 pairs of rubber boots to help protect farmers – a goal that was successfully achieved.
In many African village communities, there is a special role for women in the seaweed farming industry. With an innate entrepreneurial spirit and better money management skills than some of their male counterparts, women now have new opportunities to expand their role in sustaining their families and communities.
FMC’s seaweed farming efforts in Indonesia have changed many lives. Most farmers now are able to send their sons and daughters to school and even on to the university.
Sustaining what matters most
Erick Ask, manager of raw material development for FMC BioPolymer, says everyone worldwide who brings seaweed from the ocean to production have one thing in common: “There is a shared passion for seaweed. I’ve met supply-company owners, Norwegian harvesters and farmers from Zanzibar to Indonesia who are really passionate about the production of seaweed. There really are ‘seaweed people.’”
For FMC, the sustainability of farmers and their families is as important as nurturing that versatile, valuable resource from under those warm and icy waters: seaweed.
Related article: Sustainable product uses for seaweed.