By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Tawi-Tawi is expected to greatly increase its supply of seaweeds or agar-agar in national and global outlets by next year with the upcoming installation there of a P200 million power generation facility, according to stakeholders.
The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) will start installing in the first quarter of 2020 the P200 million solar and diesel power generation facility covering the island towns of Sitangkai, Panglima-Sugalan, and Sibutu in Tawi-Tawi, project facilitators announced on Friday.
Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Chairman Manny Piñol said the project is funded by the European Union through its Access to Sustainable Energy Programme (EU-ASEP), with counterpart funding from the provincial government of Tawi-Tawi and the Association of Islands Electric Cooperative through the local franchisee, Tawi-Tawi Electric Cooperative (TAWELCO).
Since 2018, enabling conferences alongside trainings of prospective manpower have been conducted jointly by officials of the foreign entities, the province, the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and MinDA.
Piñol said his predecessor Abul Khayr Alonto pursued final coordination for the project until his untimely demise on May 9, 2019.
Piñol said UNIDO and EU-ASEP officials have agreed with his office and the counterparts from Tawi-Tawi to implement early next year the Renewable Energy in Tawi-Tawi for Seaweeds Value-Adding (RETS) program, entailing the construction of the P200 million solar power generation facility with a back-up diesel generator to ensure continuous power supply for seaweeds drying and processing.
“Yesterday, I presided over the meeting of the Project Steering Committee in the MinDA headquarters in Davao City to ensure that the project started by the late Secretary Alonto will be pursued,” Piñol said Friday.
The meeting was attended by stakeholders from Tawi-Tawi and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) along with UNIDO and TAWELCO officials, he said.
Piñol said UNIDO Philippine Country Representative Tonilyn Lim reported that the bidding for the construction of the facility was completed and the winning bidder will be known before the end of the year.
“When completed, the RETS project will provide a steady and reliable supply of power, not only for the drying and processing of the seaweeds but also to the households in the island municipalities,” Piñol said.
Seaweeds production is one of the major livelihood sources for resident-farmers in the Basilan-Sulu and Tawi-Tawi (BASULTA) corridor, which is the main supplier of agar-agar in the country and in the global market.
BASULTA, a component of BARMM, produced a total of 627,435.50 metric tons of agar-agar in 2015 alone. Almost half of the production came from Tawi-Tawi, a regional report showed.
Officials of the defunct ARMM had contemplated the construction of a processing plant in BASULTA because the resident-producers could supply only dried raw seaweeds that had to be processed in Cebu and Metro Manila. But the plan was overtaken by the abolition of ARMM and its replacement by BARMM this year.
Agar-agar is an ingredient in medicines, soda drinks, and many other industrial products including plastics.
Agar-agar farming takes 30 to 45 days, providing a substantial income for BASULTA people in a month or so.