Seaweed Another Economic Avenue?

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The seaweed is one of Namibia’s numerous natural resources whose economic potential remains untapped. Through value addition and export, its proceeds could add to the country’s coffers. Information from 1995 and 1996 availed to New Era shows that the country got US$0.6 million (N$3.6 million) and US$2.6 million (approximately N$13 million) respectively from its exports. A couple of years back, 1kg of seaweed powder used to cost US$300 (N$1 800) while 1 000 kg of raw seaweed cost US$460 (N$2 760). Recently, seaweed derived products, such as calcium and sodium alginates were said to have harmful effects when added to food in large amounts, something experts say is not true. Dr Rihupisa Kandando of the Sea Weed Technology Centre said last week the seaweed did not pose health risks at all. It is actually given the acronym GRAS, meaning generally recognized as safe by the USA Food and Drug Administration, Kandando said. During a public lecture on seaweed, which he conducted in Windhoek under the theme: “Is Seaweed a disaster or an economic potential?” Kandando said the natural resource which grows along Namibian waters was misnamed because weed refers to a menace rather than an opportunity. Seaweed is also used in the extraction of iodine, which is important for mental development. Lack of iodine causes goitres in people. For the agricultural industry, the products can be used in the manufacture of fertilizers and also to increase production in livestock. In the food industry alginates, which are a group of naturally occurring polysaccharides that are extracted from seaweed, are used as stabilizers, thickeners, gelling agents or emulsifiers. Alginates increase food viscosity and gel strength and are used in the process of canning food. Laboratories also use seaweed-derived products as a medium for growing bacteria. In countries such as Japan, seaweed is eaten as a vegetable for its nutritional value as it contains mineral deposits from the sea. While the natural resource has all these opportunities, Kandando said, the weed is under utilized partly because Namibia’s focus is on fish and not other marine resources. “There is no tradition of seaweed utilization,” he said, adding that another reason could be because Namibia does not have artisanal fishing, where fishermen go physically to sea to fish as well as to discover what else the sea can offer. He said the country would be successful depending on what extent seaweed will be on the agenda. As far as the effect of overexposure is concerned, powdered sodium alginate can cause eye irritation in some individuals and also drying or chapping of the skin due to prolonged contact with dry powder. No evidence of adverse effects is available in case of inhalation. “However, excessive inhalation of dust may be annoying and can mechanically impede respiration, ” says a chemical manufacturer, Kelco.