Seaweed is experiencing its moment of glory: the use of marine plants is a rapidly growing trend that can have its say in many fields, from food security to climate change. A seaweed grows rapidly, contains many vitamins and minerals, and recent studies suggest that it can also absorb an amount of carbon equal to that of the Amazon.
What are we waiting for to use it?
Until now much of the world has been very slow in adopting seaweed cultivation, despite its extensive benefits. A mainly cultural problem: the general public does not know or has not well mentalized the benefits of algae and its cultivation methods.
The current global value of the trade of this real "super food" is about 14 billion dollars, and it is estimated that it will continue to grow (albeit at a staid pace).
A great opportunity if you think the oceans
they cover more than 70% of the planet's surface, but contribute only 2% of the world's food. The ocean forest is a potential, gigantic untapped food source.
Alga, a precious ally against world hunger
Research published in September showed how extensive ocean forests (covering an area twice the size of India) produce on average two to 11 times more biomass per area than intensive crops such as corn and wheat, which means they may hold the key to fighting food insecurity.
It's a great thing: algae outperforms cultivated land, and it does so without using fresh water, plus by removing carbon and nitrogen from the water. Basically it grows, nourishes, cleans.
Algae are incredibly hardy organisms: some species, such as giant algae, can grow up to one and a half meters in a single day, and reach 175 meters in length.
It is time to meet the general public
As long as they are considered a "special food", algae will remain largely inaccessible to the public. If we try to incorporate them into more familiar foods they could make a big splash in our daily diet. A phenomenon that has already begun: startups like AKUA, or Umaro Foods have already launched "vegetable" meats as protein alternatives. There's even a seaweed bacon.
How does it sound to you? Tell the truth. Anything but mainstream, right? Yet in Asia it is a typical ingredient: those people are not stupid at all, quite the contrary. As intelligent people, they take advantage of a food with an intelligence of its own.
Seaweed can create a whole new economy
In addition to serving as a natural carbon reservoir and nutritious snack, seaweed has also been used for more innovative uses.
A startup called Running Tide is testing using algae to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In Alaska the greenwave, a company founded by a former fisherman, is training indigenous communities to build a seaweed hub. In Italy, one underwater farm grow fruit and vegetables using algae that grow naturally on site as fertilizer. In California, a manufacturer is testing a seaweed-derived feed that reduces the methane from flatulence in cows (don't laugh: a cow emits 90kg of methane per year, the equivalent of 3400 liters of petrol).
It can become a sustainable occupation for fishermen and also for many coastal communities, increasingly struggling with climate change.
What do you need to get started?
As mentioned, there is a lack of understanding about the use of algae. How are they grown? How are the seeds produced? How do you draw and design a farm? How is the seaweed processed? How is it marketed, how is it promoted? (here the advertiser speaks).
Not secondary questions, if you consider that at current rates (and they are slow, as I wrote before), algae will equalize the production of potatoes within 30 years.
To be brief and practical: governments and companies need to streamline authorization procedures and access to capital for potential farmers, and inform the public about the benefits and opportunities of seaweed and its processing.
The next step, because then the problem will arise, will be in the correct management of crops. We will not have to make the same mistakes made with "terrestrial" agriculture, and avoid (for example) damage and changes to marine ecosystems.
With a seaweed, in short, the future can also be green at the table.