LOOK: How Palawan Women Seaweed Farmers Keep Coastal Families Afloat

Families typically affected by storm surges and disasters don’t just rely on male fisherfolks, as women seaweed farmers have been proven as one of their lifelines.

Back in 1999, the Philippines has already exported more than 35,000 tons of dried seaweeds, making it the 4th largest producer of seaweeds in the world. And the country continues to maintain this status today.

Seaweed farming is the world’s fastest-growing form of aquaculture. In fact, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources says that more than 1 million people benefit from this industry, including communities in coastal areas. Such is the case in the Palawan village of Balintang.

In the said area, male fisherfolk are not just the only source of income as the women have also been active in seaweed farming activities. Now, they are recognized as one of the main factors that help their communities stay afloat. 

How Seaweed Farming is a Lucrative Business 

“The women in our village are no longer just confined at home. We don’t just simply wait for our husbands to come back from the sea. Through seaweed, we now play a huge role in our family and community,” says Cherish Fisherfolk Cooperative president Mardy Montaño.

Figuratively speaking, seaweed farmers in the said community can earn from as low as 20,000 to 40,000 pesos. This is relatively larger compared to the usual 5,000-peso earnings made by small-scale fishermen. Aside from that, the said industry also garners its income every 45 days which comes after the completion of a typical cultivation cycle. 

A Typical Day in the Lives of Seaweed Farmers 

In Palawan, the entire process is led by women—from nursery to harvesting. Some mothers also share this task with their children who can help attach seaweed cuttings to the ropes. 

Normally, the women of Cherish gather in a small nipa hut to attach seaweed cuttings to nylon ropes. They are assisted by the men in their community who take the lines to distances up to 2,500 meters squared. 

About six weeks later, the seaweed is harvested. It will then be set out to be sun-dried for two to three days. After then, it will be sold locally to be incorporated into products like crisps or noodles, or it may also be exported as carrageenan—a valuable additive in food and pharmaceuticals.

Throughout the years, this industry has been of great assistance to the community, especially as it had helped several mothers send their children to college. 

How Seaweed Farming is Affected by Climate 

The area where the cooperative is based is one of the communities usually affected by storms. This is no stranger to the country, considering the fact that the Philippines is an archipelago. Though the crops are often affected and are sometimes washed away by the storm, the community has managed to survive the challenges. 

Given the fact that Cherish is a cooperative, it means that this business is owned by the members and each of them has the democratic right to vote for how it will be run. With that, the members have been earning more from selling directly to big traders and plant processors. 

According to Montaño, Cherish being recognized as a cooperative means that they receive assistance from donors and the government. True enough, the Philippines has been funding 10 other seaweed cooperatives across several provinces. It also aims to establish more seaweed nursery cooperatives. 

With continuous help from the government, the local seaweed farming industry can continue to thrive, allowing the country to maintain its global reputation. More so, this will also benefit not just the economy as it will also be beneficial to the direct families of those who live in the coastal areas.