P4.4-M lab seen to boost ARMM seaweed industry

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/01 May) —  Seaweed production in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is expected to improve with the establishment of a tissue culture laboratory worth P4.4 million, officials said.

The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources funded the construction of the laboratory in Cotabato City in a bid to boost the country’s seaweed production and help improve the autonomous Muslim region’s economy, Agriculture Secretary  Proceso J. Alcala, said.

Hadja Salma Sabdani, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries-ARMM seaweed action officer, said the establishment of the laboratory would augur well in improving the quality and production of seaweeds, one of the region’s top export performers.

“ARMM has the highest production of seaweed at approximately 60% all over the country, and seaweeds have a very high demand in the world market…It requires better management to increase its impact to the regional economy,” she said of the laboratory’s establishment.

Cotabato City is not part of the ARMM but is its provisional seat of government.

The laboratory, located in the ARMM regional government compound in Cotabato City, was inaugurated recently and expected to go full blast after its personnel shall have completed the technical training.

Sabdani said seaweeds are used to produce carrageenan, a thickening and stabilizing agent used worldwide in processed foods and in other products like toothpaste, shampoo, paints, and pharmaceuticals.

Mindanao’s growers face competition from neighboring Indonesia, which has the advantage of larger growing areas and lower production costs, the Growth with Equity in Mindanao, a United States-funded development program, earlier said.

Seaweed production in the country is centered in Mindanao, which accounts for 68% with 22% and 10% in the Visayas and Luzon, respectively, according to data from the Seaweed Industry Association of the Philippines.

Within the ARMM, seaweed harvests, mostly the cottonii variety, mainly come from the island-provinces of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan, it added.

In 2009, the estimated national seaweed production was pegged at 65,617 metric tons, SIAP data showed.

With the establishment of the laboratory, Sabdani said this would further help the efforts of the ARMM to maintain its position as the leading seaweeds producer in the country.

Sabdani said the new laboratory building contains four rooms for processing and maintenance of seaweeds, a hot chamber where the raw aquatic products raw are sterilized, a product cleansing area, and a working staff quarter.

Laboratory facilities include the analytical balance gadget, hot plate stirrer, luminar flow, culture jars, thermometers, culture shelves, digital microscope, oven glass sterilizer and an autoclave machine.

ARMM comprises the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi and the cities of Marawi and Lamitan. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)