Under the category of can you believe it, scientists at the National Crop Protection Center (NCPC) at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, the country’s premiere agricultural school, reports that carrageenan, a carbohydrate found in edible seaweeds, can increase rice yield by up to 65 percent under that country’s rice production practices.

A trial reportedly showed that adding a small amount of carrageenan to fertilizer led to higher grain weight, thereby increasing rice yields. News of the research results was recently posted on Rappler.com.

The research team led by Gil Magsino of NCPC furthered findings of previous studies showing that when carrageenan is degraded or reduced to tiny particles through irradiation technology, it can promote growth in rice plants and make it resistant to certain pests. Thus, it also becomes an effective natural fertilizer.

An additional contention is that carrageenan can improve rice productivity by strengthening rice stems and help prevent lodging when stems become too weak to carry the weight of the rice heads before harvest.

The researchers are also contending that carrageenan can also promote resistance to rice plant diseases like the rice tungro virus and bacterial leaf blight.

“This innovation of applying seaweed as fertilizer empowers our farmers to have access to cheaper but highly effective plant growth enhancers that boils down to improved harvest and increased income,” said Philippine Science Secretary Mario Montejo, as reported on Rappler.com.

Demand for the seawood from which the substance is refined could increase dramatically. There already are seaweed farmers in the Philippines, and the Philippines is a major global supplier of carrageenan. In 2011, it reportedly supplied 80 percent of the world's seaweed. The seaweed components have been commonly used as a thickener or stabilizer for food products like ice cream and salad dressing, or as a binding agent for toothpaste and shampoo.