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According to a recent report from the World Bank, emerging global seaweed markets hold the potential for substantial growth, project to reach as much as $11.8 billion USD by 2030.

This economic projection, the World Bank report notes, is tied to the remarkable capacity of seaweed to absorb carbon, support marine biodiversity, empower women, and open up new value chains.

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The “Global Seaweed New and Emerging Markets Report 2023” delves into the prospects of burgeoning seaweed market applications with high growth potential. The report delivers insights for entrepreneurs, investors, and policymakers, aiming to ensure that the seaweed sector fulfills its promise both now and in the years ahead.

Seaweed to replace plastics and sink carbon

At present, the majority of cultivated seaweed is utilized for direct human consumption or as fresh feed in aquaculture.

However, the World Bank foresees a wide variety of additional products and markets for seaweed in future – as a replacement for fossil fuel-derivatives in textiles and plastics, as well as a key method of carbon sequestration.

The income derived from seaweed cultivation would provide much-needed income for vulnerable coastal communities, and particularly women, the report says.

Seaweed cultvation poised to expand worldwide – but international collaboration needed

The World Bank notes that currently only a handful of Asian currencies dominate the seaweed industry, reponsible for a whopping 98% of seaweed cultivation worldwide.

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Plenty of opportunity thus exists for seaweed cultivation to expand to other regions. However, global expansion means knowledge and technology also need to be shared, the World Bank says.

Valerie Hickey, the World Bank Global Director for the Environment, Natural Resources, and Blue Economy, commented that “Advancing seaweed farming on a global scale hinges on the collaborative sharing of technology and knowledge among policymakers, financial institutions, the scientific community, private enterprises, producers, and processors.”

“With women playing a leading role in seaweed farming, the stage is primed for a transformative ‘she-weed’ revolution,” she added.

10 seaweed applications identified, focused on short, medium and long-term markets

The report zeroes in on 10 relatively new and emerging applications for seaweed, which it suggests present significant market opportunities beyond the established sectors.

In the short term, these promising markets are projected to amass a value of $4.4 billion USD by 2030, encompassing biostimulants, animal feed, pet foods, and additives that reduce methane emissions.

Medium-term possibilities include nutritional supplements, alternative protein sources, bioplastics, and fabrics, with a potential worth of $6 billion USD.

Long-term emerging markets are expected to reach $1.4 billion USD, encompassing pharmaceuticals and construction materials – although these face substantial regulatory hurdles and high product development costs.

“Seaweed farming exemplifies the synergy between development, climate action, and natural conservation to create value and uplift communities,” said Martien van Nieuwkoop, World Bank Global Director for Agriculture and Food. “Seaweed farming is poised to ensure nutritional security and offer an alternative to synthetic fertilizers.”

Key findings from the report:

Finding 1: The most promising short-term seaweed markets (beyond conventional applications) encompass biostimulants, animal feed, pet foods, and additives that reduce methane emissions.

Finding 2: Medium-term opportunities involve nutritional supplements, known as nutraceuticals, alternative protein sources, bioplastics, and fabrics.

Finding 3: Long-term potential lies in pharmaceuticals and construction.

Finding 4: Unlocking the industry’s full potential requires overcoming key challenges, including seaweed availability, pricing complexities, and regulatory obstacles.

Finding 5: The positive climate and environmental impacts of seaweed cultivation will propel growth, particularly as demand for “green” products continues to rise.

Finding 6: Ecosystem services that deliver environmental advantages can amplify the potential for green economic growth.

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