When Johanan Dujon began harvesting sargassum in Saint Lucia in 2014, he collected 1,500 pounds of the seaweed. This year, with his company Algas Organics, he is on track to harvest 1 million pounds.
With the increasing influx of sargassum battering Caribbean coastlines, Dujon has found a business opportunity and a way to employ Saint Lucians.
His company has developed a line of fertilisers and stimulants for agriculture using the invasive weed as the base.
While contaminants found in sargassum have been a concern, Dujon says he is able to remove heavy metals, such as cadmium, mercury, arsenic and lead, and verify the results through testing by the Caribbean Public Health Agency.
The company has partnered with the Saint Lucia government to train 120 workers as sargassum harvesters. The seaweed they collect is transported to the Algas processing plant and prepared for sale.
Dujon recognised an opening created by the region’s sargassum invasion and developed a process to put unused seaweed to good use, while providing employment opportunities.
“Whereas in some tourism-dependent areas, hotels and the private sector invest in machinery to remove sargassum and keep beaches clean, other affected areas are often left unattended across the Caribbean, thus exposing thousands of coastal residents to elevated levels of hydrogen sulphide and disrupting livelihoods,” Dujon said.
“We recognise sargassum as an alternative livelihood opportunity for unemployed and marginalised in affected communities, especially women and youth.”
The agricultural products developed by Algas Organics are used locally and exported to other Caribbean islands, including the Cayman Islands, where it is sold at A. L. Thompson’s.
“We decided to take a hands-on approach, to create employment, [and] generate foreign exchange through exports, food security through improved crop production/yield and economic development,” Dujon said.
He contends his products have helped farmers reduce fertiliser costs, speed up harvest times and improve output.
In marketing material, Algas Organics promises a plant tonic that will improve root depth and boost crop resilience.
Dujon studied chemistry and biology, and his academic background and his entrepreneurial instinct led him to experiment with the concept of creating an organic fertiliser from seaweed.
“The company got started after recognising the tremendous opportunity this invasive species presented and the reluctance/analysis paralysis of stakeholders to take concrete actions to solve the problem,” he said.
“There were and still are conferences talking about the problem, universities conducting research for the last five years … [but] there has been no real impact on the ground.”
He decided to take a hands-on approach and the concept has grown quickly. Algas Organics is now looking to develop other organic products and exploring partnerships on other islands.
“Continuous improvement and learning really makes handling it fun,” Dujon said.
“We look forward to this every day.”