A biotech company in St Lucia is transforming invasive Sargassum seaweed into an effective plant fertiliser © TravelMuse/Alamy Stock Photo
Algas Total Plant Tonic, a natural fertiliser, is made by Algas Organics from Sargassum seaweed; the algal growth hormones and micronutrients stimulate vigorous root development help to boost plant growth and crop yields.
Algas Organics, the first indigenous agriculture biotech company in the Caribbean, carried out research for 11 months to determine how to extract key nutrients and hormones from the seaweed before identifying a business opportunity to develop it into a liquid biofertiliser. “Plants have a wider root span, the roots go deeper into the soil, the plant is better able to absorb nutrients and, consequently, produce sugars through photosynthesis which enhances crop yield as well as plant health,” says Johanan Dujon, founder of Algas and one of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States 30 Under 30 Entrepreneurs.
Dujon’s biotech company was established in 2014 at a time when inundations of Sargassum seaweed in St Lucia had significantly increased due to changes in ocean currents and warmer sea temperatures. Piles of seaweed accumulating along the coast cause problems for the fishing and tourism industries by clogging boat engines and obstructing general vessel traffic. The dead seaweed also generates a strong odour that discourages tourists from visiting the beaches. But this environmental problem has effectively been turned into an agricultural solution through the efforts of this young entrepreneur.
During the peak season, Algas Organics employs up to 20 staff to process and collect the seaweed; the company currently sells around 5,000 l of fertiliser annually. However, through funding from the government and other donors, the company recently increased its capacity to produce 300,000 l each year. The tonic is already available in six of St Lucia’s major retailers, and is now also being sold in neighbouring Barbados.