Seaweed in Sikka: Progress and challenges ahead

Seaweed in Sikka: Progress and challenges ahead

in News
Muhammad Ziaul Haq
Muhammad Ziaul Haq
Seaweed Sector Coordinator
+62 811-3863-714

East Nusa Tenggara (Nusa Tenggara Timur/NTT) has long been recognized as one of the major seaweed producing provinces in Indonesia. With its uniqueness, the province is well suited for the development of quality seaweed production due to less polluted water, adequate sunlight, sea currents, pressure, and water quality and salinity that suit the biological needs and growth of seaweed. In 2013, the province was able to produce 1,966.2 tons of Raw Dried Seaweed/RDS (Statistic Book of Fishery, 2014).

Contrary to the ever-increasing opportunities and demand of seaweed from the global industry, some areas of seaweed production centers in NTT are experiencing significant production volume depreciation for the past 10 years. The decrease in production mainly occurred in part of NTT Province, especially the Flores area and its surroundings.

Our study before the project implementation informs us of several problems hindering seaweed cultivation in Flores. The main one is that farmers are experiencing difficulties in obtaining seeds. Interviewed farmers reported that before 2013 farmers had never experienced this problem as each farmer would reserve some of the crops for the next planting period. But since mid-2013 seeds are scarce and at the beginning of 2017, there was no stock at all. This is linked to the disappearance of seaweed buyers in the region. Since mid-2012 farmers no longer cultivated seaweed on a large scale as they did before.

The large-scale farms are pilot programmes and projects from the district and provincial governments as an effort to revive seaweed cultivation in Flores. It is suspected that due to its dependency to fiscal year policy, most of these government projects have failed. Almost all government project activities were carried out from July to August, a period that according to the farmers is a 'production-resting phase'. This time of the year the change in the sea current and temperature can trigger the ice-ice disease. This in combination with strong currents and big waves as a result of strong winds, making this season prone to crop failures.

Other problems are related to processing and marketing. After 2013, there was no large-scale cultivation in Sikka and Flores Timur. Farmers generally sell seaweed that has been dried for two to three days with water content of 38%-40%. Farmers sell directly to local collectors without any previous cleaning. Both in Sikka and Flores Timur districts, the collectors come to the farmers to conduct direct transactions, at a price set by the collectors ranging from Rp. 7,000-Rp. 7,500 per kg in 2013. Farmers are also not informed of seaweed market price fluctuation, either at exporter or processing factory level.

Re-introducing seaweed: an ongoing process

To address the aforementioned problems, we have been working with the local government to help farmers obtain quality seeds, cultivate and harvest seaweed and link farmers to market. Up to now, we have been engaging farmers to cultivate seaweed. In Magepanda Village of Sikka District, one of our project sites, we carried out a Good Agricultural Practices training from, 19th to 21st June, 2019, involving 17 people consisting of young people, farmers and university students.

In Magepanda, rural communities mostly depend on agriculture (rice, cocoa, corn) to sustain their livelihoods. During a dry season, farmers rely on stored rice, saved from a previous harvest, which most times are insufficient to feed the whole families. This forces farmers to borrow money from loan sharks (informal moneylenders asking for high interest) to meet their daily needs. A small number of farmers also turns to subsistence fishing during a lean season. We see an enormous potential for seaweed farming to improve farmers’ livelihood in this village. In Magepanda, we introduce three new technologies to farmers:

  • We teach farmers to use a floating cage to protect new seeds when being transported from one place to another

  • To stimulate the growth of newly-planted seeds, we teach farmers to tie seaweed seeds to a long rope (longline method). With this method, farmers can move longline to another area, seeds receive sufficient sunlight and grow faster

  • We introduce the use of algae veg sheet to make the cultivation process more efficient. The technology allows farmers to grow more seeds with less space

As a result of the training in Magepanda, participants have received new skills in seaweed farming. They learnt how to harvest, cut, tie and replant seaweed of the new cuttings. The newly-cut seaweeds then were tied to 6 long lines, with each line of 25m in length, and replanted to a 50 meter square sea area.

Despite some progress, we also note some challenges in the field. The main challenge is low participation of farmers. We already have contact farmers willing to cultivate seaweed and pass on their knowledge to other farmers. Yet, the number of farmers attending training fluctuated, because farmers have not seen the benefit of seaweed cultivation.

The peak harvest will occur in December 2019 and we encourage farmers to keep taking care of their seaweed. We have also brought potential buyers committed to buying seaweed from farmers and linked farmers to Village-Owned Enterprises. With this enabling environment, we hope to see more farmers in seaweed farming.

“The provincial government of NTT includes seaweed sector as one of its main development priorities. This is a good opportunity for Rikolto to align its work with the government to ensure programme sustainability, and also to ensure that the programme significantly benefits farmers”

Ziaul Haq Seaweed Programme Coordinator

Disclaimer statement

The project is funded by Australian Government through Australian Alumni Grant Scheme and administered by Australia Awards in Indonesia.

The views expressed within this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Australia Awards in Indonesia, or Australian Embassy Jakarta, of Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, of the Commonwealth of Australia. The Commonwealth of Australia does not endorse its content and accepts no responsibility for any loss, damage or injury resulting from reliance on any of the information or views contained within it.