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Small scale seaweed cultivation and use for food

Cultivation of seaweeds and their use as food can be the next green revolution, though blue--equitable, environment-friendly and resilient.

Photo of Ricardo Radulovich
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

University of Costa Rica

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

We are part of an informal coalition of colleagues from different countries/organizations working towards this same aim. As needed and convenient we will count with support from colleagues from FAO, the Scottish Association for Marine Science, several universities from Latin America and elsewhere, and others. We also work in Costa Rica in association with fishermen's organizations and other stakeholders including government agencies and colleagues from other universities. Yet this vision that we will implement in Costa Rica is fundamentally and effort lead by the University of Costa Rica.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.ucr.ac.cr

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

San Jose

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Costa Rica

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

North Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica.

What country is your selected Place located in?

Costa Rica

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

We have worked in the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica for over 10 years and are very familiar with both environmental and socio-economic-cultural conditions, particularly of fisher families that are affected by dwindling fisheries and need complementary income. We have advanced proof of concept of seaweed cultivation and use as food and other uses, and are well positioned to scale-up to implementation phase where this becomes an established practice for the communities involved and for a variety of markets at the national level. After that, given the many similarities of our target population/places with the rest of the region, the model can be scaled-out to other locations in the region (Central America, South America, the Caribbean). 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Costa Rica, as part of Central America and the Caribbean represents two different populations, something that is particulary evident at the coasts. The Pacific coast is composed mostly of the 'Latino' population (of which I am part of, Spanish-speaking), while the Caribbean coast is largely part of Afro-descendant communities (to a large extent English-speaking). Additionally, not only are coastal populations in Costa Rica the ones with the poorer economic advancement, but dwindling fisheries are affecting economic conditions of these populations. They are in need of complementary activities, and we think seaweed cultivation and use as food (use as food for them and for markets that will be developed) is an ideal complement that uses their knowledge while helping them maintain their way of life and at the same time contribute to food production for themselves and for the larger population. This situation is common throughout the region and thus work in Costa Rica can be eventually disseminated throughout both the Latino fisher communities of Central and South America as well as to the Caribbean communities.

We will work in two very different coastal locations in Costa Rica, Pacific and Caribbean coasts, with respectively different coastal populations that offer adequate conditions for field and lab work. The Caribbean location will be south of the Limon port area and the other will be northern Pacific. In both locations we have experience and though there is a natural abundance of seaweeds, besides a thick beverage in the Caribbean, seaweed use is practically non-existent and cultivation less so. 

We will work with at least two communities/locations in each coast, Pacific and Caribbean of Costa Rica. If convenient to expand experience in this project, the Caribbean location will also allow reaching over to Panama’s indigenous coastal populations (around the Bocas del Toro area) while the Pacific location will allow to reach Nicaraguan coastal populations.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

1000

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

50000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

World demand for food is rapidly growing, while production continues to falter, particularly in developing countries, where billions of people suffer hunger, nutritional deficiencies and food insecurity, severely limiting their human potential. The ability to end hunger by 2030 is being questioned. Despite well-funded research efforts to increase agricultural production, the myriad of partial solutions provided to date will at best only produce marginal improvements. We urgently need a major shift in how we produce our food, treating the cause and not only the effects. As over 1000 liters of water are required to produce one kilogram of grain, agriculture productivity is limited by water and the availability of suitable land. Irrigation uses 70% of the world’s available water (90% in some countries, like India) thwarting population access to water, sanitation and hygiene. Climate change aggravates the situation through heat waves, higher rainfall variability, droughts, floods and sea level rise. Agriculture alone cannot overcome the production problems caused by water limitations and the associated climate-related risks and risk-aversion from farmers. Neither can we rely on traditional fisheries to meet our growing demand, as they are already at full capacity, dwindling or severely over-exploited like in many coastal-seas. Food scarcity and prices can easily escalate at short notice, while deforestation for agriculture and aquatic pollution with nutrient run-off from land continue unabated. It is now time for a major science-backed technological thrust, based on solving the food production crisis through shifting focus to our seas.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Cultivation of seaweeds at sea is an alternative plant-based food production option that will come to overcome the challenges described above. Farming the sea adds new areas for farming, fully provided with all the water that is needed. This reduces pressure on land and water for agriculture. Seaweeds have shown to be highly productive in cultivation and are edible and nutritious foods. Moreover, their production at sea does not require fertilizer since they uptake nutrients from the water, actually cleaning it. 

This approach, which we have tied to the Sargassum bloom problem, is presented in our website www.sargassum.info. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

We envision a situation whereby fisher communities that are now in critical situation due to historical impoverished state plus now reduced income due to dwindling fisheries, have added seaweed cultivation to their culture and are receiving increased and sustainable income for this. At the same time, they will count with additional food from these seaweeds, and at the national level seaweed use as food will have been mainstreamed and a market will be demanding production.

Yet we need to get there and this will mean that we will have to 'cut' the seaweed Gordian knot, which we express as:

“People don’t eat seaweeds because they are not in the market, and seaweeds are not in the market because people don’t eat them.”

How do we create demand if there is no supply?

How do we forge supply if there is no demand? 

Basically, this is an effort equivalent to when millennia ago humanity moved from hunter-gatherers into agriculture. This time, fisheries (hunting-gathering) will most likely not be phased out, but controlled plant-based food production (seaweed cultivation) will be added as a complement--perhaps eventually as an activity that surpasses fisheries. The time has come to promote this evolution because of the many benefits it represents, including it being a major adaptation against climate change limitations to food production.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The aquatic food production systems and their products that we will promote are adapted for extensive scaling up. The best example of this happened recently in Indonesia, where in about 10 years-time seaweed cultivation went from producing negligible amounts to over 7 million tons per year for the hydrocolloid market, mostly in small scale units with proven profitability and low investment. After this initial phase of consolidating small-scale seaweed cultivation and use in Costa Rica, we plan to significantly scale-out the experience to the other Central/South America and Caribbean countries, increasing seaweed production volumes, through capacity building, infrastructure provision and on-going support while creating an ample demand for the aquafood.  In this manner, many countries will have been impacted to different degrees, having created a snowball effect that will eventually lead to aquatic farming becoming a common and well-established way, practiced by millions in many countries, producing millions of tons of food in marine environments.

In a sense, we believe that planetary carrying capacity has not been nearly reached as long as we don't add controlled, plant-based food production at sea.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email

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Hi, I want to create a network with you.
Email;- vdcrangpur@gmail.com

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