Seaweed is a nutrient-rich food source that has always been part of many South American indigenous groups’ diets, especially in the Chilean area.
The aquatic plant is currently seeing a revival in the diets of the area. The Inter Press Service (IPS) reports that the wild supply is being harvested from the ocean at a high rate. As a solution, seaweed farming is becoming a new industry. There are over 700 known varieties of seaweed in Chile but only 20 are currently used commercially.
A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the U.N. states that 25 million tons of algae and seaweed are harvested around the world each year. These seaweeds are used as food, cosmetics and fertilizers. Seaweeds are also used as thickeners and animal food ingredients.
Aquaculture could go a long way in helping to improve hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean. Although the region managed to reduce its proportion of undernourished by 60% between 1990 and 2014, FAO reports that hunger still affects 37 million people or 6.1% of the population.
Aquaculture, which includes fish and seaweed farming, provides direct employment to more than 200,000 people and indirect employment to another 500,000 in the area of Latin America and the Caribbean. Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico account for more than 80 percent of the regional aquaculture production, but most of the countries in the area practice some form of aquaculture farming.
FAO reports that marine aquaculture products contribute to food security and the alleviation of poverty. Most workers are employed in small- or medium-sized fisheries and family businesses.
Chile’s seaweed industry alone employs 30,000. Seaweed provides food and food security to rural areas where the poverty rate stands at 47% poverty according to a TakePart article. The most grown, harvested and cooked species of seaweed in the country is cochayuyo. It is high in protein and is often found being used in place of meat in traditional dishes.
TakePart reports that not only is seaweed helping to make the poverty-stricken less hungry; the plant is making its way into the kitchens of fancy restaurants. In particular, vegans are regular consumers of kelp. Chile is a leader of environmentally friendly cultivation of seaweed in the local area; they offer incentives to farmers to replant. This will hopefully further help the poor out of poverty.
Many women are active in seaweed farming and as TakePart points out: “Across the globe, when women gain economic independence, childhood malnutrition goes down, and education goes up.”
– Rhonda Marrone