By Marifi S. Jara, Mindanao Bureau Chief
THE islands of Tawi-Tawi hold several distinctions: the southernmost province in the country; home of the Turtle Islands protected area; and site of Sheikh Karim Al Makdum Mosque, the first in the Philippines and declared a National Cultural Treasure.
It is also the Bangsamoro region’s biggest and one of the country’s top producers of seaweed, a major aquaculture export commodity.
As such, the province is being eyed to host the headquarters of the proposed Bangsamoro Seaweed Industry Development Authority (SIDA), which will lead in the planning, scientific research, implementation, and sectoral coordination for the sector’s expansion.
Bangsamoro Parliament Member Amir S. Mawallil, author of Bill No. 84 or the Seaweed Industry Development Act filed last week, said it is important to keep focus on long-term economic development despite the more urgent demands of the health crisis.
“We need to craft economic policies that will help spur the region’s economic growth and generate employment. We also know that seaweed is one of the region’s economic strengths that we can leverage. We must invest in this,” he said in a statement.
Ishak V. Mastura, chair of the Regional Board of Investments of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), said the island provinces, despite being geographically remote, are central to the region’s natural wealth and growth.
The island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi are collectively referred to as BaSulTa.
“The island provinces are farthest from the Bangsamoro government center and the provisional capitol in Cotabato City, but despite being in the periphery, they contribute a lot to the economy of the BARMM since more than 50% of the surface area of the BARMM is water with the Sulu Sea as its biggest aquamarine resource base,” Mr. Mastura said in an interview.
“Seaweed is an important aquamarine produce because of its strong and growing demand in the world market as part of the global food supply chain but also because of its flexibility in a lot of chemical and medical applications,” he said.
The region’s 696,766 metric tons (MT) of seaweed output in 2019 had an estimated market value of P4 billion, based on Philippine Statistics Authority data (PSA). This accounted for about 45% of national production.
In 2020, nationwide seaweed production stood at 1.47 million MT valued at P10.6 billion, contributing 33.3% to total fisheries production, the PSA reported in its fisheries situation report.
Year on year, production and gross value dropped to 1.5 million MT and P11.84 billion, respectively, in 2020.
“The Seaweed Industry Development Act is primarily a recognition of the enormous potential the industry holds — not only in developing the regional community, but in positioning the region as a competitive partner in building the Philippine economy,” Mr. Mawallil said.
The proposed SIDA will be headed by the BARMM minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Agrarian Reform while the minister of Science and Technology will be vice-chair. Members will include the minister of Trade, Investment and Tourism; director of the Bangsamoro Planning and Development Authority; and representatives from seaweed farmers’ organizations, processors, and exporters.