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Seaweed industry dying due to kidnappings
Published on: Saturday, July 16, 2016

Kota Kinabalu: The seaweed industry in Sabah appears headed for doom as several processing factories in Kunak and Semporna are closing shop following several kidnapping cases in the East Coast by the southern-Philippine based Abu Sayyaf.

The price of the commodity has dropped drastically from RM4 or RM5 per kg of dried seaweed to RM1.50 or RM1 per kg, making producers in Semporna, Kunak and Tawau to stop.

The pricing is also very low plus there is only one processing factory left in Tawau now still buying dried seaweed.

The production of the factory in Merotai, Tawau, is limited and can only purchase up to 60 metric tonnes of dried seaweed.

One of the planters, Jain Isnain (pic), 41, from Kg Pababag, Semporna, said the very low prices and closure of factories severely damaged the income of some 4,000 seaweed planters in the East Coast of Sabah whose livelihood depended on it.

In fact, he said, almost 80 per cent of the 4,000 seaweed planters in Semporna, Kunak and Tawau who are mostly from the Bajau and Suluk communities have decided to stop at the lots provided for them at sea.


"A decade ago, we used to earn between RM2,500 and RM 4,500 during the harvesting month where we harvested once every two months when the selling price of dried seaweed was at RM4 to RM5 per kg.

"But since two to three years ago, we could only generate between RM700 and RM800 which is not sufficient to upkeep our families when the selling price dropped to RM1.50 per kg. Some were even willing to sell as low as RM1 per kg to a middleperson," he said, Friday.

Jain who has been planting seaweed for 10 years now, said replanting involves a high cost of about RM2,500 which includes buying the seedlings and other structures for the venture that also depends on the acreage of the cultivation.

The father of seven said they need more seaweed processing factories in the East Coast particularly those that can buy in bulk so that the selling price could go up.

"There were two seaweed large-scale processing factories each in Kunak and Semporna before and these facilitated us to directly bring the dried seaweed to the operators and cut out middlemen.


"However, these two factories that could buy thousands of metric tonnes in dried seaweed closed down two years ago due to security reasons which caused us to sell the dried seaweed to a small-scale factory in Merotai, Tawau, that can only handle about 60 metric tonnes of the seaweed.

"Since then, we have no choice but to sell our dried seaweed to the middlemen who will also cover the transportation cost of the commodity to the factory in Tawau situated on mainland," Jain said.

Hence, he said, the time has come for the government via relevant agencies to fully address the problem faced by seaweed planters in the State.

"I was made to understand that the seaweed industry in Sabah is worth millions of Ringgit involving an annual export of 20,000 metric tonnes given the encouraging response from world market.

"If this potential is not fully capitalised, then I believe whatever efforts taken by the government to develop and commercialise the seaweed industry would be in vain.


"Hence, on behalf of seaweed planters in the East Coast, I am appealing to the government to help us," he said.

Following the kidnapping of three Indonesian fishermen in the waters of Felda Sahabat, Lahad Datu on July 9, Jain said they fear for their safety when they are at sea planting the seaweed and monitoring the crop.

However, he said, they have no choice but to be brave and pray that such incidents would not happen to them.

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