With a coastline of 3,260 km long and a surface area of about one million km2, Vietnam has the potential to develop the seaweed industry, especially in the central region with rocky coastlines and a narrow temperature variation range. In Vietnam, 800 seaweed species are identified in four sectors, of which, the red seaweed accounts for more than 400 types, the green seaweed for 180 types, the brown seaweed for more than 140 types, and the blue seaweed for nearly 100 types.

Grape seaweed, one of the species with high economic value, is popularly grown in Vietnam.

Development of seaweed resources

Seaweed is a group of lower plants, living in the sea and coastal areas. They play an important role in marine ecosystems and human life. Regarding the environmental and ecological values, seaweed participates in the nutrient cycle of the aquarium as a place of living, sheltering, and searching for food for many marine species. It also brings great value to human life such as providing raw materials for processing industries (agar glue extract, alginate, carrageenan, etc), food, medicine, etc.

Since the 18th century, seaweed has been widely used in Japan. Asian countries such as China, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines have also used seaweed for a long time. Therefore, the seaweed industry in these countries is very developed. In recent years, due to the diffusion of culture from neighboring countries, Vietnamese people have become interested in seaweed. Since 2004, grape seaweed has been introduced to Vietnam and successfully grown in Binh Thuan and Khanh Hoa, creating a source of seaweed with high economic value for export. Currently, the Government also pays attention to this product. Under the Scheme “Restructuring the fisheries sector towards improving added value and sustainable development” in Decision No. 1167/QD-BNN-TCTS dated May 28, 2014 of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, for the first time, seaweed is officially included in the action program. It can be considered a golden time to develop the seaweed industry, which has a lot of potential in Vietnam.

According to many studies, the potential growing area of seaweed in Vietnam is about 900, 000 hectares (equivalent to 600 – 700 thousand tonnes of dry seaweed/year). Among more than 800 seaweed species, Vietnam’s coastal region has 90 species that have economic values. Currently, there are seven species of economic seaweed (Caulerpa lentillifera, Gracilaria tenuistipitata, Gracilaria firma, Gracilariopsis bailinae, Kappaphycus alvarezii, Kappaphycus striatus, Eucheuma denticulatum) are commonly grown in Vietnam. In 2015, the seaweed growing area in the country was estimated at 25,000 ha, total fresh seaweed production reached 35,000 tonnes. Seaweed is mainly used as fresh food or processed into added products such as jellies, jams, etc. In addition to economic efficiency, seaweed also contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, cleaning the environment, and absorbing heavy metals in polluted marine areas and aquaculture.

Despite the favorable conditions to develop the farming and processing of seaweed, this sector is facing many challenges. That is the effect of environmental pollution, un-diversified products, small and fragile production, and no specific processing and planning technology. Besides, overexploitation of seaweed has reduced natural resources. Therefore, the exploitation of seaweed in nature needs to comply with seasons and techniques to improve production,  product quality, and protect resources. At the same time, it is necessary to build some seaweed resource protection zones in combination with marine nature reserves to protect the natural genetic resources of seaweed.

Seaweed is super healthy and nutritious.

Towards a sustainable development solution

Given the development prospects of the seaweed industry, as well as the economic and nutritional value of this food, an appropriate action plan is needed to promote the development of the seaweed industry, which focuses on some key issues:

  • Synchronous development of raw material production and processing of value-added products from seaweed to ensure efficiency, high productivity, and product quality in line with market demand.
  • Develop seven highly economical seaweed species and consider importing some new valuable species such as Ulva and Meristotheca papilosa. At the same time, developing the methods, scale, and technology of growing suitable for each species and each ecological region, prioritizing the development of seaweed species with high agar, carrageenan, and alginate content.
  • Promote the application of science and technology and certification systems. Developing intensive farming areas with the application of high technology, biosafety, ecological environmental safety, and climate change adaptation.
  • Build a project to develop the Vietnamese seaweed industry by 2030, focusing on enterprises with the participation of the Government and people. The project should specify the methods of organizing production along the value chain appropriate to each product; encourage the application of science and development of biotechnology to improve productivity, quality of raw materials, and processing of value-added products.