Seaweeds are multi-cellular, macroscopic organisms found in coastal, marine ecosystems and are rich in micro and macro nutrients polysaccharides, proteins, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), polyphenols, phytohormones, enzymes, osmolytes and bioactive peptides. The seaweeds extracts are widely used as biostimulants defined as “any substance or microorganism applied to plants with the aim to enhance nutrition efficiency, abiotic stress tolerance and/or crop quality traits”. They are derived from the extraction of several microalgae species, which depending on the extraction methodology leads to the production of complex mixtures of biologically active compounds. Seaweed extracts increase tissue concentrations, root to shoot transport of micronutrients and improve mineral composition of plant tissues.
The seaweed- based biostimulant market was valued at USD 2.6 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach USD 4.9 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 11.24%. This is approximately 33% of the total global biostimulant market. Europe accounts for nearly 40% of the global seaweed based biostimulants market, followed by Asia pacific at around 26%. In India, seaweed based biostimulants account for about 39% of the total Indian biostimulant market.
CSIR – CSMCRI (Central Salt and Marine Chemical Research Institute, Bhavnagar, Gujarat, India), has been working on the development of seaweed-based biostimulants that will help increase crop productivity in India by up to 37%. Currently the demand for seaweeds in India is 450,000 tons of solid biostimulants. India produces only 5-8% of the amount of seaweeds needed, the rest is imported. India is just starting to witness the usage of seaweeds in biostimulants. NITI Aayog, has also set up a committee to explore how seaweeds are grown. CSMCRI is partnering with many private entities to use their technology. One of their licensees, AquAgri Processing Private Limited, has built a plant for the production of seaweed sap biostimulant. Other companies like IFFCO and Vikas Crop Care have also collaborated with CSMCRI for licensing their technology. Some of the companies involved in the commercial seaweed products are PI Industries, BASF, Acadian Agritech, AgriGro, Technaflora, Green Air Products, etc. The major sources for seaweed includes Ascophyllum nodosum followed by Durvillaea sp., Kappaphycus alvarezii and Ecklonia maxima. Government has recognized biostimulants as a valuable plant growth promoter by regulating the biostimulants. The country’s first patent on biostimulant has been granted to a Bangalore- based company, Sea6energy for the application filed in May 2015. The patent is for ‘A biostimulant formulation for improving plant growth and uses thereof”. Sea6 energy has patented some unique molecules from cultivated red seaweeds that can specifically stimulate metabolic pathways in plants and these compositions are subject of their granted patents. The product has already received patents in USA, Europe, Japan, China, Malaysia, Australia and South Africa with same set of claims.
Seaweeds are the major type of biostimulants in India and worldwide and have an advantage of its application across the various crop segments. Its application on agricultural crops have potential to increase the rate of germination, crop growth, yield and quality of produce which is proven through various research experiments conducted in India aa well as globally. These are anagbiologicals and with recent regulations, the industry will move with much higher growth rate than anticipated. The current gap between demand and supply of seaweeds can be reduced by its commercial cultivation. Big giant, Pepsi Food Ltd. has already taken a step in the direction by commercial cultivation along a 10 km stretch in Tamil Nadu, with technical support from CSMCRI. The industry players need to invest more in research and development and innovating on the different seaweed product types along with commercial cultivation of seaweeds to reduce imports which will further drive the industry.
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