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Tapping the potential of seaweed to deliver sustainable nutrition [Interview]

Article-Tapping the potential of seaweed to deliver sustainable nutrition [Interview]

© Vitafoods Insights Tapping the potential of seaweed to deliver sustainable nutrition [Interview]
The cultivation of seaweed could help to sustainably feed a growing global population, replace fertilisers, and restore biodiversity to the oceans. At this year’s Vitafoods Europe Future of Nutrition Summit, Vincent Doumeizel, senior advisor to the United Nations Global Compact, will outline the critical role that industry can play in helping make this a reality.

Conventional food systems alone simply cannot meet demand from a growing global population without causing irreparable environmental damage. Crop yields are not increasing sufficiently, while arable land is shrinking.

We need to increase the performance of food production systems without continuing to contribute to climate change, water scarcity, biodiversity loss and social injustice,” says Doumeizel. “It has been calculated that we will need to produce as much food over the next 50 years as has ever been produced by mankind over the past 12,000 years.

Looking to the ocean

Doumeizel began his career over 20 years ago in Africa, working for the French government to support international aid. He has since focused on tackling global hunger and dedicated his career to finding ways of improving food systems. In addition to his work at the UN Global Compact, Doumeizel is director of the food programme at Lloyd’s Register Foundation.

I realised that there is no solution on land – the only solution is to look to the ocean,” he says. “Oceans cover 70% of the planet, yet contribute just 2% of our food. We need to build something regenerative here, and to do this we need to start at the foundations – plankton and seaweed.

Doumeizel notes that seaweed extracts are already widely used as flavourings, texturing agents, and gelling agents, and that they are packed with nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, iodine, and protein. There are also lots of bioactive compounds still to be fully investigated.

Seaweed also has huge potential for use in animal feed, designing new types of fertiliser, and making bio-plastics,” he says. “It can help restore ocean biodiversity and sequester more carbon than any land forest. Some seaweeds can grow up to 40 cm a day, and up to 60 m high.

Building a robust seaweed industry

In order to fully tap this potential, stakeholders will need to work together to establish a robust and sustainable seaweed cultivation industry. How this can be achieved will be a central element of Doumeizel’s presentation at the Vitafoods Europe Future of Nutrition Summit 2024.

Doumeizel intends to highlight the fact that industry is a key driver of change. “If there is no demand for seaweed ingredients, then a viable industry simply won’t emerge,” he says. “We need to raise awareness, learn how to grow seaweed properly, and learn how to extract ingredients in a sustainable way. We need to avoid solvents and other chemicals. We need to support science.

Bringing seaweed stakeholders together

Doumeizel has already helped to foster interest from industry and policy makers, for example through encouraging schemes to grow and harvest seaweed on offshore wind farms. The success of such actions led Doumeizel and his colleagues at the UN Global Compact to publish the Seaweed Manifesto. This call-to-action highlights many of the key benefits, market potential, and obstacles that must still be overcome.

Doumeizel is also currently heading up the Global Seaweed Coalition, hosted by the UN Global Compact and supported by a grant from Lloyd’s Register Foundation. This is the first global platform of its kind to advocate for a strong seaweed industry.

Anyone can join us, from small seaweed producers to major multinational manufacturers and everyone in between,” says Doumeizel. “There is so much potential in the North and South Atlantic, around Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, as well the Nordic countries, Canada and Greenland. There is also potential for some tropical seaweed activity around Indonesia and the Philippines, and Africa and India will be key players too.