Carrageenan represents some of our best efforts in this area, from the communities that harvest our raw materials to the consumers that enjoy products with carrageenan around the world. This valuable food additive enables processes that extend shelf life without loss of quality and recipes that eliminate the need for refrigeration, reducing both food waste reducing consumption of electricity and fossil fuels.
Sustainable aquaculture in action
Today, seaweed farming is generally considered to be one of the most environmentally friendly types of aquaculture but this wasn’t always the case. FMC’s commitment to sustainable seaweed harvesting dates back to the 1960s, when Vicente Alvarez helped a team comprised of Professor Maxwell Doty of the University of Hawaii, Marine Colloids Inc. (now part of FMC) and the Philippine government develop new farming techniques for two types of tropical seaweed. Alvarez's goal was sustainable and profitable methods to develop seaweed farming as a viable option for seaside communities across the globe.
Erick Ask, FMC’s manager of seaweed development, was a young protégé of Alvarez while working with the Peace Corps in the late 1980s. Under the tutelage of Alvarez, and ultimately Alvarez’s mentor Professor Maxwell Doty, Erick began a career in seaweed aquaculture, which brought him to FMC. Today, under Erick’s guidance and with the work of thousands of family farmers, FMC sources thousands of dry tons of farmed, tropical seaweed every year.
The vast majority of the tropical seaweed FMC sources – 85 percent – is farmed in the Philippines and Indonesia, some by families that Erick Ask and FMC know well. Family-owned farms play an important role in sustaining their coastal communities and FMC is on the ground to make sure that this continues.
Among its farmers, FMC works to encourage that best practices are followed and that the farming is sustainable, for both the people and the natural resources involved. Using Best Farming Practices, farmers can harvest considerably more seaweed over consistent and predictable time periods, and create a reliable, steady income for their families. FMC works to improve the knowledge of farmers with training sessions and general guidance on improved farming techniques based on FMC’s marine agronomy research and development program. These continued efforts have ultimately led to increases in productivity and income for many farmers. In addition to helping enhance the knowledge and technique of farmers in FMC’s supply chain, FMC has worked within communities to develop adjacent projects that improve the ability of seaweed farmers to safely and efficiently harvest their crops. By working with community members, FMC has been able to help local communities implement target improvements.
Community outreach projects
Stairway on Pemba Island, March 2013
Mjini Kiuyu, a community where FMC has partnered since the 90’s, has about 300 farmers in FMC’s supply chain. In spending time with the community, FMC’s team learned of the need for a staircase from the shore to the seaweed drying structures. At the time, farmers were carrying their seaweed up the muddy cliff side, which was difficult and time consuming. Building supplies are not readily available in this island village. In line with the company’s philosophy to Think! Safe, FMC provided the resources, including construction management, to build a staircase up the 6m cliff from the seaweed landing. Many farmers donated their time to aid the construction. The new staircase made transferring seaweed safer and easier for the farmers, and had a positive impact in the community.
Footwear for Farmers on Pemba Island 2009 and 2012
In 2009 and 2012, FMC implemented its “Footwear for Farmers” program among the farmers on Pemba Island and in Madagascar. FMC recognized the need for safe, durable rubber boots for farmers to wear while harvesting their seaweed lines to prevent injury from sea urchins, sharp rocks and other ocean hazards. Boots ensure that the farmers are safe and healthy to not only harvest their crops, but also to care for their families and run their households.
Water Seal Toilet project on Pemba Island 2013
Among farmers in Mjini Kiuyu on Pemba Island, there is large population of Muslim women. When speaking with the community here, FMC learned that in the absence of proper women’s-only toilet facilities, women farmers were forced to return to their homes when they needed to use the bathroom. Many of these women are the breadwinners for their households, and the valuable time spent away from the harvest affected their productivity and impacted their families.
In 2013, FMC organized the excavation and construction of women’s toilets near the seaweed landing. The new toilets enable female farmers to maintain their religious modesty and stay on the job.
Ecole La Pepiniere on Nosy Ankao 2003
FMC has worked with seaweed farmers on Nosy Ankao, a small island off the coast of Madagascar, since 1999. In this time, members of FMC’s team learned that there was a need in the community for a proper school that wasn’t too distant from where the people lived and worked. In partnership with their supplier, FMC donated funds for the construction of Ecole La Pepiniere, which is now a five-room schoolhouse that serves the children of farmers. The school has enrolled over 200 children and has become a source of pride for the community.
Dental mission, June 2013
FMC has partnered with seaweed farmers on the island of Guindacpan, Bohol for years. Traveling for health services, such as dental work, presents a challenge to members of this small island community, so team members at FMC Cebu, in partnership with the Indo-Pacific Sourcing Center for Warm Water Seaweed, organized a weeklong dental mission to the island in June 2013. The Rise Above Foundation, an NGO in nearby Cebu, brought in fifteen volunteers from Denmark and Sweden including thirteen dentists. Over 360 patients were given free dental services, ranging from fillings to customized dentures, and hygiene training and toothbrush kits were provided for 700 school children. The event was supported by 20 volunteers from the FMC Cebu plant and FMC’s main seaweed suppliers in the region. This marked FMC’s second year of involvement with the dental mission.
The impact of collaborative projects like these on the communities is tremendous. Not only are seaweed farmers able to make a living, but they are also able to secure a better quality of life for themselves and for their children. They are able to send their children to better schools, technology—including mobile phones and electricity—is common, sanitation is better, and farmers develop specialized knowledge in coastal marine ecology that increases their income. In turn, FMC is able to feel confident that the seaweed used for our products comes from a sustainable farm operated by a farmer in a safe environment who is yielding a fair wage.
Hear from real seaweed farmers
Six experienced seaweed farmers from Nosy Ankao in Northeast Madagascar recently took time from their busy lives to sit down and talk about their experiences as seaweed farmers. Generally speaking the farmers, some who have been farming for 15 years, find seaweed farming attractive because (1) there are low barriers to entry and the seaweed company provides farm inputs and technical support, (2) they earn a much higher income than that from other possible work, (3) seaweed farming is much easier than planting rice or other terrestrial crops, (4) the women farmers have their own money, their own source of income and (5) seaweed farming provides steady income due to the short grow-out periods (six weeks) and year round production. Rice, by contrast, is a four month grow out and only one or two crops per year without irrigation.