Eucheumatoids are tropical red seaweeds that contain carrageenan, for which they started to be commercially farmed in the 1970s in South East Asia. Cottonii and spinosum are the most commonly cultivated species. Since their cultivation method is fairly similar and many farmers grow these interchangeably they are summarised as Eucheumatoids in this report.
Group: Red seaweeds (Rhodophyta)
There are many different morphotypes from cultivars of the same species that range in colour: from green, to brown, to red.
Eucheumatoids are processed to extract carrageenans, which are widely used in the food processing, pharmaceutical, cosmetics and nutraceutical industries for their gelling, thickening and stabilising.
- Food grade: in dairy and meat products (due to their strong binding to food proteins), sauces, bakery
- Pharmacy grade: tissue engineering, wound coverage and drug delivery
- Industrial grade: animal feed and textiles
However, the protein, fat, and minerals in the seaweeds from which the hydrocolloids are extracted – which represent 70– 92% of the raw dried seaweed used – are mostly wasted, so an economic opportunity is lost.
Beyond the extraction of carageenan, some of the harvested seaweed (mainly spinosum) is consumed fresh by the local communities in the form of salads for example. The volumes that are freshly consumed are difficult to estimate, but should only make up a few percent of total production.
Commercial farming of Eucheumatoids was pioneered in the Philippines around the 1970s. The production peaked in 2011 with 1.8 million tonnes wet weight and has been stagnant with about 1.3 million tonnes wet weight in 2021, according to government statistics.
Industry estimates: 500.000 tonnes wet weight in 2021
According to government statistics, production in Indonesia has seen an almost 10-fold increase between 2000 and 2015 but has been slightly decreasing/stagnating since, with a production of 7 million tonnes wet weight in 2021.
Industry estimates: 1.3 -1.5 million tonnes wet weight 2021
Malaysia ranked third in terms of Eucheumatoid production over the past five years, although production figures have been declining since 2012 to about 180,000 tonnes wet weight, which is significantly lower than for Indonesia and the Philippines.
Industry estimates: 30,000 tonnes wet weight in 2021
Production outlook – the Philippines:
It is unlikely that production in the near future will increase from the Philippines. The northeastern part of the archipelago is exposed to typhoons and the production here is very seasonal, while in the south of Zamboanga and the Tawi-tawi regions, where most seaweed is currently produced, political and social unrest limits investments to support growth of the sector.
Production outlook – Indonesia:
The seaweed sector in Indonesia is so diverse. Some traditional seaweed regions are struggling, due to lack of quality seed supply and increased troubles with epiphytes and ice-ice syndrome, while newer regions are thriving. There is plenty of unrealised potential in Indonesia and The Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry is preparing four seaweed industrialisation zones to capitalise on this potential. If this can be achieved, we can expect further growth in Eucheumatoid production from Indonesia.
Production outlook – Malaysia:
Significant public efforts in expanding the cultivation area by inviting the participation from smallholder farmers in new areas. However, other limiting factors, such as availability of quality seedlings and strategic marketing – need to be strengthened to allow the growth of the production. Not to forget that 90-95% of the seaweed workforce is made up of non-citizens and the citizenship status creates legal and financial barriers that reduce their productivity.
The high-level supply chain overview for Eucheumatoids
Eucheumatoids are often farmed in quite remote areas across the coral triangle region. Only the close-knit network of all value chain actors makes this possible.
Farmers: These are almost exclusively smallholders from coastal communities who farm seaweed either full-time or part-time to provide a livelihood. Learn more about the farming process in our farm insights chapter.
Collectors and local traders: Well connected local actors who will buy the seaweed from the farmers and aggregate volumes to further trade. Prerequisites include a vehicle for transport of the seaweed and a warehouse. Some handle only small volumes and are seaweed farmers themselves, others are fully dedicated to the trade activity and have several employees. Activities of local collectors include buying semi-dried seaweed, bringing it to a warehouse, cleaning, sorting, sun drying to reduce the moisture content to a percentage that meets the requirements of the exporters and processors, packaging and transportation to a regional trader.
Regional traders: Often located in the major port cities, they can be independent or work for a processor or exporter. They often dry the seaweed again, clean again, store the seaweed in the warehouse and transport raw dried seaweed to an Indonesian domestic processor or to an exporter in compressed bales of roughly 100 kg.
Exporting traders: These traders primarily supply dry seaweed to foreign markets and a smaller amount to domestic processors. They often pay local traders in cash, pre-payments and working capital.
Processors: Today almost all processors of Eucheumatoids produce carrageenan (semi-refined and refined carageenan in different types of grading). For all products the seaweed is washed to remove sand, salts and other foreign matter before several processing steps are applied.
Compounder & Ingredient manufacturers: Will buy the refined or semi-refined carrageenan from processors as an input ingredient for blends which are dedicated to the production of specific products across the food, nutraceutical, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.