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A blue-green algae rich in protein could help curb global malnutrition if a US$1.7 million cultivation project in Chad — due to end in December — proves successful.
Dubbed a "miracle food" this cyanobacterium — known as spirulina — has been eaten around the world for centuries.
Analyses by industry and university laboratories reveal that almost 70 per cent of its dry weight is protein. It also has a small environmental footprint, needs little water, and can be cultivated in salty conditions harmful to other crops.
But it has not had the impact of similar nutritious products such as Plumpy’nut. One reason for this may be its acquired taste.
"It might seem bitter at first, but you get used to it," said Hereta Taher, a spirulina grower from Chad. Another reason could be the lack of political interest.
In Chad people drive up to six hours to buy spirulina ‘cakes’ from more than 1,500 women involved in its cultivation. Ousmane Issa Mara, a village chief in the north of Kanem region said the food is a miracle, giving energy and restoring appetites.
Currently, the top commercial producers are China and India. But overall the algae "has not yet received the serious consideration it deserves as a potentially key crop in coastal and alkaline areas where traditional agriculture struggles," according to the Italy-based Food and Agriculture Organization.