For many people living throughout the Global South, the only way to earn an income is through traditional activities. Coastal communities often rely on fishing as one of the only sources of income, but when fish populations begin to dwindle, new sources of income are needed. People living in the town of Mandapam, on the Gulf of Mannar in the Ramanathapuram district of India, use seaweed harvesting, specifically the kappaphycus plant, which has become a major source of income thanks to new innovative technologies introduced by AquAgri Processing Private Limited (APPL).
APPL was formed in 2008 by a group of social entrepreneurs who obtained the harvesting venture from PepsiCo India. Pepsi originally began the initiative as a Corporate Social Responsibility project. After partnering with a local Indian group, Central Salt and Marine Chemical Research Institute (CSMCRI), APPL began applying new innovative technologies to both the harvesting and processing of the seaweed.
Prior to the APPL takeover, the seaweed, which is grown and harvested by local communities, was dried out and sold to buyers. CSMCRI helped develop a new system for processing the crops. Now, by processing the plants, elements can be extracted that are used in processed foods.
The kappaphycus seaweed contains an enzyme which, when extracted, is called carrageenan. This is used to thicken processed foods like ice cream and chocolate. Carrageenan is currently in high demand for use in a wide range of products. Through AquAgri’s partnership with CSMCRI, a new processing technique was developed that allows for a higher quality of carrageenan to be produced.
A number of different naturally occurring growth hormones, micro-nutrients and amino acids are also produced within the kappaphycus seaweed. APPL ensures that fertilizers are used at optimal times to help boost production of these nutrients, which ensures that the crops are of the highest quality. After the seaweed is harvested and processed, these naturally occurring elements can be extracted and used as a natural fertilizer because its components help yield better, fuller crops. This allows buyers to purchase the seaweed for commercial farming value, as well as the original processed products. More demand means hiring earnings for local aqua-farmers. As a natural fertilizer, it also leaves a positive impact on the environment, as no chemicals are used.
APPL ensures that proper training is provided to local farmers, as well as a pre-arranged and guaranteed buy-back of all seaweed that is produced. This ensures that farmers have the capacity to produce valuable crops that will allow them to generate a sustainable income. A Grower’s Investment Program has also been started to help farmers save part of their earnings for a better economic future.
So far, APPL has been successful in maintaining their goal of providing sustainable opportunities for coastal populations to work, and therefore create positive livelihoods, while also working in an environmentally friendly atmosphere.