Macroalgae project to benefit science and communities

Marine farming in Mozambique and the country’s research capacity in the field of aquaculture are set to benefit from the work done by Dr Valera Dias, a senior lecturer at Eduardo Mondlane University’s department of biological sciences in Maputo and one of the 44 handpicked beneficiaries of the African Research Initiative for Scientific Excellence (ARISE) programme.

Dias, who obtained her bachelor, masters and PhD degrees in Mozambique, Australia and South Africa respectively, has had an interest in macroalgae, or seaweed, since she started her academic career as an undergraduate science student. Currently, she is a member of the Algae Biotechnology group at Eduardo Mondlane University.

“Macroalgae are marine resources with broad application in Mozambique. We have more than 300 species of marine macroalgae, and only a few of them have been investigated in terms of their potential biotechnological application.

“As a scientist, I would like to bring new insight about the growth of macroalgae eucheumoids, their extraction and the application of their products,” she told University World News.

Mozambique has a high potential for mariculture and attempts to cultivate macroalgae, specifically eucheumoids, which Dias defines as a group of red seaweed species known for its richness in carrageenan. Carrageenans, in turn, are extracted from macroalgae and are economically important in the pharmacological, cosmetic and animal feed industries.

Some macroalgae, for instance, Kappaphycus alvarezii and Eucheuma denticulatum are Mozambican aquaculture species that are harvested and exported as raw material for commercial value.

Dias presented the details of her project, titled ‘Evaluation of Eucheumoids Cultivation and Exploitation in Southern Mozambique’, to other researchers at a meeting held by the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) on 15 June.

The project aims to produce scientific knowledge on the cultivation and processing of the eucheumoids in southern Mozambique (Inhaca Island or Vilanculos) and it will be implemented in two phases. The first phase will assess the best site to cultivate macroalgae; and the second phase will focus on assessing crop quality, product processing and transferring knowledge to communities, Dias said.

She said this will help to elucidate the socio-ecological conditions of the region. The second phase of the study will focus on the biotechnological exploration of eucheumoids, when she intends to pass on knowledge to the private sector and rural communities.

Dias said it will benefit the private sector, because of the current low production of the macroalgae in Northern Mozambique, hence the project is expected to boost production.

As part of the social engagement dimension of the project, rural communities will be trained in the cultivation process and, this way, participants may be able to generate income. Farmers will also learn why the production of marine resources is affected by climate change.

Climate change is affecting the existence of mangrove, which is also a macroalgae. The use of the mangrove for instance, as a source of income, was once very common in Mozambique but, these days, is not allowed because the country’s mangrove resources have been under threat, among other reasons due to climate change factors.

Dias explained that the project is important for Mozambique because it has an extensive coastal line, ideal for aquaculture, but it is a field of study that is under-explored. With this project, Mozambique could be positioned at the same level as other countries in the region, through the production and processing of macroalgae, specifically Eucheuma and Kappaphycus, she said.

Building research capacity

Dias said the project will be supported by both national and international institutions that have experience in macroalgae cultivation.

It is also expected to boost the number of experts in aquaculture and applied biology in Mozambique. As part of Dias’ project, postgraduate students, including four masters and two PhDs, will acquire skills to implement scientific projects.

“The project fits the objectives of the ARISE Programme because, in addition to the scientific research component, it will train six people through scholarships. During the training, the beneficiaries will get internship opportunities in the research area as well, which will give them a chance to actively participate in the project,” she said.

She said several academic papers will be some of the other tangible outcomes.

“We hope to increase the scientific credibility of our institution, at an academic level, as well as at a social level,” she explained.

Dias added that academic institutions, in collaboration with the macroalgae production sector, will create a strong foundation to improve scientific performance in the [participating] institutions while upgrading the production system.

Additionally, the project will elucidate the environmental conditions of the study sites, by conducting periodical monitoring of environmental conditions (salinity, temperature, currents, nutrient level or primary productivity, as well as the fauna and flora associated with the culture region).

“There are three partner countries that will contribute to the scientific and technical experience and they are Mozambique, Tanzania, and Portugal. This procedure will create a platform for exchanges on research and innovation policies and strengthen the partnership between the institutions involved, and these are some of the priorities of the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU).”

The AAS is the implementing body of the programme.

For the researcher, the project also has the potential to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

It will empower fishermen with knowledge about the sustainable use of marine natural resources, life below water will benefit, and by equipping people with knowledge about the impact of climate change and the economic potential through macroalgae production, the project can contribute to poverty and hunger reduction.

The €25 million (almost US$26 million) ARISE programme will see fellows such as Dias benefit from substantial grants over the coming five years.

The research will be focused on four priority areas previously agreed between the partners at the AU-EU high-level policy dialogue on science, technology and innovation forums – public health, green transition, innovation and technology, and building capacities for science.