For Kappaphycus and Eucheuma, the farmers usually sell to middlemen; sometimes there may be two in the chain. They sort and clean up the seaweed before selling it on to the carrageenan processors. The middlemen frequently help to finance the farmers with loans for equipment and seedlings. As cultivation in the Philippines has developed, some of the major processors have set up extraction factories there, eliminating the former transport costs to Europe. Two distinct grades of carrageenan are produced: refined and semi-refined. Large quantities of seaweed produced in the Philippines are now processed there, producing all grades of carrageenan.
In Indonesia, again, there are active middlemen and a few local companies making semi-refined carrageenan (SRC). Figure 43 shows the marketing chain for Kappaphycus in Indonesia, and this is also typical of the situation in other countries, such as the Philippines. A large proportion of the seaweed is exported to Japan and the Republic of Korea. In Zanzibar (Tanzania) all the production is exported, mainly to the companies who helped to establish the industry. Pacific nations such as Kiribati have a transport cost problem but have entered into contracts with at least one major producer who is willing to pay a fixed price if the supply is assured. The farmgate price of these seaweeds has undergone severe fluctuations in the past, with boom and bust cycles that are harmful to both buyer and seller in the long term. Fixed price contracts assure the farmers of a steady income, otherwise when the farm gate price falls too low they simply abandon seaweed farming and return to fishing and other activities that sustain a subsistence living. This eventually leads to a shortage, a demand that cannot be met, giving rise to increased prices. In Chile there is large internal consumption by four processors; the remainder is exported through several intermediary companies. A useful review of trends of seaweed production in Chile includes a diagram showing the marketing channels within Chile (Norambuena, 1996). All the Betaphycus gelatinum produced in China is used there. In France, all Chondrus harvested is used locally. Canadians operate fishermens’ cooperatives that sell Chondrus to FMC Biopolymer, based in nearby Maine, and also export to Europe.
Demand for carrageenan has risen at a steady rate of about 5 percent annually, and this should continue for several years as a continuing increase in demand is forecast. Carrageenan extractors actively pursue a policy of assistance to those interested in establishing seaweed farms, so future prospects for the industry are very encouraging.