Seaweed superfood: Malaysia seeks UN recognition to boost international awareness

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

88% of Malaysia’s seaweed production is cultivated in in Semporna,Sabah. ©GettyImages
88% of Malaysia’s seaweed production is cultivated in in Semporna,Sabah. ©GettyImages
Malaysia is seeking recognition from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) for its seaweed to be classed as a superfood.

Minister of Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek said the proposal is among the efforts implemented by the South East Asian country to further enhance the promotion of its seaweed at the international level.

“The seaweed is one of the superfoods produced by Malaysia due to its high content in nutrients including minerals, vitamins, iodine and its role as the base ingredient for producing, among others, jelly and crackers, apart from pharmaceutical purposes,”​ said Ahmad Shabery,

“Previously, the government focused on improving the seaweed production as well as providing facilities. However, I think better yield is not enough if the price is low. And this involves marketing problems and how to rectify the value chain system.”

Of Malaysia’s total seaweed production, 88% is cultivated in in Semporna, in the East Malaysian state of Sabah. Other districts in which seaweed is cultivated on a large scale include Lahad Datu, Kudat, and Kunak.

The main cultivated species of seaweed is Kappaphycus alvareziiand Eucheuma spinosum​.

Growing but with limitations

Datuk Ahmad Shabery recently outlined how the government would help the seaweed industry increase exports.

He said the Malaysian government would implement special programmes to increase the production and marketing of seaweed products, and that the Ministry, together with 1,600 seaweed producers, is developing an area of about 1,000 hectares into a seaweed “farming estate”.

However, he acknowledged that the main challenge in developing Malaysia’s seaweed production industry was in increasing the price of the seaweed, which is RM3/kg for the dried product.

“The price at the seaweed farmers is still low compared with those at the manufacturing end and retailers,” ​he had said.

“If we want (Malaysian) seaweed to be superfood, we have to promote its goodness.”

The Ministry of Agriculture of Malaysia had already highlighted seaweed as one of the country’s most important aquaculture commodities in its Third National Agricultural Policy (1998-2010).

However, the Maritime Institute of Malaysia (MIMA) had previously highlighted that in order to promote the local seaweed sector growth and boost seaweed production in Malaysia, five areas need to be improved on: infrastructure, manpower, quality of product, transfer of technology, industrial support and marketing.

Internal promotion

Datuk Ahmad Shabery made the statements on the proposal to the FAO to reporters after the National Fishermen’s Wave 2018: Seaweed Splash programme at the Regatta Square in Semporna.

The event was organised with the cooperation of the Sabah Agriculture and Food Industry Ministry to promote consumer awareness and to bolster business relationships.

Datuk Ahmad Shabery believes FAO recognition would raise the profile and viability of Malaysian seaweed as a superfood.

He added that there was also a proposal to introduce kelulut (sting-less bee) honey as a Malaysian super food.

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