Wonder algae could hold the key to food security in country
Posted Monday, July 2 2012 at 19:53
Jagpal Sandhu’s ponds are filled with water but he does not use it for fish farming. He is growing a rare type of algae, which is a source wealth and health for him and his family.
At his Dunga Farm in Kisumu, Mr Sandhu spends his whole day, supervising his workers as they look after the simple one-celled microorganism known as Spirulina, which is being promoted by the UN as the most effective tool against malnutrition especially during seasons of drought and food insecurity.
Mr Sandhu has two ponds, each of eight by 10 metres, which give him a total of 30kg of dried spirulina powder in a month. A kilo, according to him, costs Sh5,000.
Mr Sandhu says he sells the powder to organisations fighting malnutrition and HIV and also to individual clients.
“One gramme of Spirulina a day is able to heal malnutrition in children. An adult is supposed to take up to four grammes, depending on the nutritional needs.
‘‘It is also a very effective measure of preventing cancer and hypertension,” Mr Sandhu says.
He started the business in March 2010 after purchasing two litres of Spirulina suspension from a laboratory in France, which he used as ‘seed’.
According to Mr Sandhu, the cultivation of Spirulina does not require a lot of work as it is done in open ponds, whose pH is monitored. The culture is poured into the ponds, which are stirred regularly. Mr Sandhu’s eight employees stir the ponds during the day to avoid overexposure of the algae to the sun, which according to him, can burn it.
Stirring, he says, also helps in the aeration of the algae, which helps it develop and multiply fast.
“Like any other plant, fertiliser is added to the Spirulina in the pond in a specific proportion to aid development,” says Mr Sandhu.
“It takes a professional to know the right amount of fertiliser to add to the ponds so as to avoid intoxication to the algae and to the consumer,” he adds.
Every morning, the workers fetch water from the pond and sieve it through a fine cloth to draw the algae. Harvesting is done in the morning because the algae forms a thick layer on top of the water at night, making it easier to collect. The algae is then spread on another cloth to dry naturally so as not to kill the nutrient content.
Mr Sandhu says the production of Spirulina is directly proportional to the amount of sunlight experienced in the day.
“More sun means that the multiplication of the algae will be higher,” he says. Each day he harvests three to five kilogrammes of the powder, which he packages in aluminium papers to preserve the freshness of the Spirulina and to prevent exposure to direct sunlight.
He sells each 100g package for Sh500-Sh600. The price is, however, set to go up with the high demand for the algae in the international market.