AN Erris-based firm is setting a lead in the harvesting of seaweed.
Based at Corclough East, Belmullet, Redrose Developments Limited was established in May 2014 and employs four people and two part-time seasonal workers.
Under the direction of founder and chief executive officer Ann Ruddy, the firm's objective is to raise the price and value of Irish seaweed through product innovation and adding value at source.
Currently local harvesters collect seaweed in large quantities and sell to large companies for processing in bulk to produce animal feed and fertilisers.
There is a wide range of sea plants available to harvesters accessible from the shores of west coast of Ireland which are used to make products in modest quantities.
Now there is an opportunity to create many more products from the wide variety of species available, products such as food ingredients, superfood status raw product, health supplements, cosmetics, medical applications and much more.
As Ann explained: "There is potential to increase the value of raw material by as much as 2,000% to 4,000%.
"There is a concern that as prices increase, untrained individuals and groups might be tempted to cut plants and damage the ecology.
"The risk exists that large corporations could recognise the opportunity and seize the rights to our shores. The use of mechanical harvesting could impact on the variety and access to a range of species."
Redrose Developments is linked with the Marine Institute of Ireland in delivering training to national schools in relation to the importance of ocean science.
An application is being submitted to Erasmus to work with transition year students on the benefits of eating seaweed to address food securities.
Stated Ann: "Training is a key element of working with harvesters and two sessions with BIM have been introduced to demonstrate cutting sustainably, health and safety, and species identification.
"We are currently pitching to have Level 5 training in cultivation, a course run by BIM, set up in this region.
"We are also working with local community groups to raise awareness of the future potential of Irish seaweed."
Harvesters United of Belmullet (HUB) is a group formed with the support from Redrose Developments to apply for funding to establish a processing plant in Belmullet. The aim is to achieve local capacity to create food grade processed seaweed to meet growing demand.
"As global demand for seaweeds of different species rises, the need for additional capacity is created.
"Once proven as a commercial venture, the Belmullet processing plant would be replicated many times over along the coast of Ireland.
"The social and commercial impact on rural coastal Ireland should be significant, meeting local, regional, national and global demands and promoting new product information innovation on a local level.
"It is our firm belief that Irish seaweed has superior values and components. But, to compete on the global stage, we need the evidence. Working with top Irish universities, we are seeking to provide evidence, on a continuous basis, of the quality of our plants.
"We are also seeking to create a system that will validate our claims and support our market position at the top of the value chain.
"This evidence can be used to support our pricing, which is significantly higher than global competition due to both rarity and production costs.
"Having the evidence that we have the best seaweed, Irish seaweed products would be positioned as the ‘designer brand’."
Wild Atlantic Seagarden (www.wildatlanticseagarden.com) is the marketing platform selling Irish seaweed products to a wide market.
Ann elaborated: "As we expand, the market reach is increasing to global customers. We have promotions planned to raise market awareness of the health benefits and value of Irish seaweed, while information and educational packages are being delivered.
"In the future we hope to support the development of at least 10 seaweed processing plants of modest scale along the Irish coastline. It is essential to retain the value of Irish seaweed for rural coastal communities."