An article by Vincent Doumeizel
Businesses, governments, academia, non-governmental organisations and the UN must act together to deliver solutions addressing key issues such as hunger, poverty and climate change. The ocean, and seaweed specifically, hold huge potential to mitigate food security issues all over the world. Going forward, we can scale up this industry to deliver a safer and more sustainable food source for an increasing global population.
Due to growing population levels, over the next 50 years we need to produce as much food as in the previous 10,000. But already today, 690 million people go to bed hungry. While the ocean covers 71 per cent of Earth’s surface and possesses the potential to solve this challenge, the ocean currently only contributes with two per cent to the world’s food supply on a caloric basis.
Low in fat and rich in proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins (B12, A, K) and essential micronutrients (iodine, zinc, iron), seaweed and other algae hold untapped potential to contribute to the food system, providing a nutritional source of food for humans, feed for aquaculture and land animals, and fertilisers for crops. Innovation projects are also exploring the potential of using seaweed extracts as a source of packaging to replace single-use plastic as food packaging.
There is an urgent need for expansion of the world’s agricultural area. Seaweeds do not need land nor chemicals nor fresh water. They have the potential to deliver low-carbon feed, as well as restoring ocean abundance, capturing and storing carbon dioxide to limit climate change. Farming seaweed can also create new sources of revenue to alleviate poverty in vulnerable coastal communities.
As of 2015, production of seaweed was 30.4 million tonnes globally, worth more than USD 6 billion per annum. However, seaweed is mostly (99,5%) cultivated in Asian coastal waters and currently low in non-Asian consumer preferences.
Aquaculture is the world's fastest-growing food producing sector. However, only consuming more of the species at the top of the food chain, such as tuna and salmon, is not sustainable. We should instead be looking at how we can harvest smaller fish, shellfish, seaweed and other algae and incorporate these lesser known food sources into our diets. A shift in western diets is needed and an increase in consumer awareness regarding the benefits of seaweeds use as a fertiliser and animal feed.
Lloyd’s Register Foundation & UN Global Compact led the redaction of a Manifesto (www.seaweedmanifesto.com) gathering input from World leading organisations (FAO, World Bank, Cargill, WWF, BNP Paris, etc…).
Released last June, the document outlines the opportunities and barriers ahead of us:
- Harmonising rules and regulations;
- Sharing science and safety best practices;
- Enabling innovations;
- Good marine spatial planning
- New investment efforts can ensure this industry accelerates to the next level.
The Manifesto also highlights the need for more collaboration within the industry, and the creation of more global safety standards/regulations for the final products, environment and workers in the Seaweed Industry.
In light of this, one of the first actions from this Manifesto will be the creation of a Safe Seaweed Coalition, gathering all Seaweed stakeholders to work on common goals to achieve safety in this emerging industry. Safety as a pure noncompetitive topic holds the potential to enable collaboration, and actions to meet the Manifesto ambition beyond safety.
Seaweed has the potential to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges (food security, ocean biodiversity loss, climate change, better health) and set the basis for a new type of aquaculture to feed the world of tomorrow.