Currently, 08 coastal provinces including Khanh Hoa, Binh Thuan, Ninh Thuan, Vung Tau, Kien Giang, Phu Yen, and Binh Dinh have piloted and developed grape seaweed – a promising marine farming industry with economic value.

Using varieties and technologies under Japanese standards, grape seaweed “made in” Khanh Hoa has an expanding market. As a result, the income and life of growers in the province are increased. Visiting a grape seaweed processing and packing facility of the person known as the “king” of grape seaweed in Vinh Luong commune, Nha Trang city, we were overwhelmed by the scale of production here. Dozens of workers were doing their work, taking care of and picking up grape seaweed for pre-processing.

After being harvested in the natural pond or lake, grape seaweed will be farmed in the factory for the best quality.

Mr. Nguyen Quang Duy, General Director of D&T Company, said that: This area is just the last stage in the production process of a standardized grape seaweed product for export to major markets such as Japan, the US, Taiwan (China), etc. In addition to this facility, Mr. Duy also has 30 ha of grape seaweed farming in some localities in the province. He is associated with 70 ha of grape seaweed cultivation by farmers in Ninh Hai ward, Ninh Hoa town, Van Gia town, Van Ninh district (Khanh Hoa), Song Cau town (Phu Yen province), and Ca Na (Thuan Nam district, Ninh Thuan province). The total farming area is nearly 100 ha.

Mr. Duy’s grape seaweed farming areas have been checked and recognized by Japanese experts as valuable and high-quality grape seaweed production areas. Talking about the development process since 2010 when there was only 3 ha, Mr. Duy said: Grape seaweed (scientific name: Caulerpa lentillifera) was imported from Japan to our country in 2004. Grape seaweed can be grown in their natural environment – suitable marine areas with a salinity of 28-35 per thousand. Grape seaweed lives in shallow and quiet waters, in ponds, cages, or on ropes hanging on the sea. Growing grape seaweed is very simple. We do not need to provide food for the plant because it absorbs nutrients from the environment through its “branches” and “leaves” to grow.

From these “stem and branch”, leaves that are round, about 2 mm in diameter grow, like a small grape. Grape seaweed usually grows quickly under closed farming conditions. After 20-30 days, they can be harvested. The best time to grow grape seaweed is when it is sunny. We should avoid the rainy season because the salinity of seawater will be diluted.

Vietnamese grape seaweed is exported to many countries around the world.

Mr. Duy shared that in the early years of switching from the pharmaceutical field to growing grape seaweed, he faced many difficulties. The first is that people do not know about grape seaweed and how to grow it. The second is that the market has not welcomed the product so the output is very difficult. In 2014, a Japanese team came to Ninh Hai farming area to visit and test (under the cooperation program). They rated the quality of grape seaweed in Ninh Hai as good as in Okinawa, Japan. Therefore, the Japanese team proposed to export grape seaweed to Japan. Later, under the program to learn the experience of the grape seaweed production partners, he went to Japan to learn the process as well as experience to ensure the strict standards of this market.

By 2021, Mr. Duy exported to two main markets, Japan and the US, with an average of 40 tonnes of grape seaweed per month, even up to 150 tonnes in peak months. Although he has a good reputation abroad, Mr. Duy hopes this quality product can serve Vietnamese people. The domestic market boomed when the tourism industry developed strongly between 2018 and 2019. Therefore, in his long-term development strategy, Mr. Duy oriented the development of grape seaweed associated with tourism, that is, creating practical experiences for tourists in the journey to discover Khanh Hoa, thereby, they can buy grape seaweed products, making Khanh Hoa grape seaweed brand as a typical product of the province.

Introducing the steps of growing and processing grape seaweed that he built and implemented during the past 10 years, Mr. Duy emphasized the factor that creates the brand name for grape seaweed in Khanh Hoa in the market is the farming area. Thanks to suitable salinity, grape seaweed grows well.

After being harvested from the natural lakes, grape seaweed will be mechanically fed into the factory ponds for the best quality. In the farming pond, the used water is sea water over 5m deep, through the RO filtering system and activated carbon, and five different stages to remove harmful bacteria and retain beneficial bacteria. Finally, workers will sort out grape seaweed by size and then move to the stages of water separation and packaging.

The stage of water separation is applied under Vietnamese technology, meeting export standards to foreign countries (HACCP, ISO, FDA…). Mr. Duy has collaborated with professors, and doctors of research institutes to create a different process of producing grape seaweed with water separation.

A 100g bag of grape seaweed has 80g of grape seaweed and only 20g of salt water, which can be preserved for one year.

Another good thing about Mr. Duy’s grape seaweed production model is the chain link with farmers to invest and develop grape seaweed cultivation. Mr. Duy is willing to invest in the capital, grape seaweed varieties, farming techniques, and cover product output for farmers. He does not limit the area of associating with farmers, the more people participate, the better. For him, supporting farmers with stable jobs and sustainable development of grape seaweed farming is his joy and happiness.

Mr.Tran Nhu Hoang, Ninh Hai ward, Ninh Hoa town, said that he has been involved in grape seaweed farming for many years and he does not worry about the output of his products. They were all bought at a very reasonable price by Mr. Duy. He invested about 300 million VND in 3 ha of grape seaweed with the net used for 2 years. Each year, he can earn a profit of more than 350 million VND after deducting expenses. This income is not as high as that of snails, white-leg shrimp, or lobster, however, the output is stable because it does not depend on foreign markets like other aquatic products.

Mr. Le Ben, Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Marine Farming Association, was the first person to bring grape seaweed to Vietnam in 2004 and the first pilot implementation in Ninh Hai ward (Ninh Hoa town, Khanh Hoa). Currently, nearly 10 coastal provinces have piloted and developed this aquatic variety such as Khanh Hoa, Binh Thuan, Ninh Thuan, Vung Tau, Kien Giang, Phu Yen, Binh Dinh, and recently Quang Ninh has also approached. He assessed that this is a promising marine farming industry with economic value, which needs to be developed in the right direction to improve the quality. However, the development of grape seaweed farming should pay attention to the method and product efficiency.

Grape seaweed growers should follow the technical process of some households and units that have successfully planted for sustainable product development and long-term profits. Poor quality of grape seaweed and lack of output can make the price drop, affecting grape seaweed farming in the future./.