The $1.2m project, funded by the European Union and run by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has seen the production of ten tons of the spirulina variety Dihé since the project’s launch in 2007.
According to the FAO, Dihé chas already helped boost income for the algae’s harvesters, and could also one day be used to help fight malnutrition.
Spirulina is a blue-green vegetable algae commonly sold in the Western world as a dietary supplement. Among the nutrients it contains are protein, amino acids, phytonutrients, iron, antioxidants and B-vitamins.
Dihé is a rich source of protein, iron and beta-carotene, which the FAO says “can enhance the nutritional value of diets that are poor in these nutrients”. It is traditionally filtered out of sandy river bed ground, dried into a thin biscuit and made into a bitter-tasting sauce.
The algae are harvested primarily by women on the edges of Lake Chad where they form at certain times of the year. As part of the project, the harvesters were shown how to work more efficiently and hygienically, and how to process, package and market the produce.
“Ten tons of improved Dihé have now been produced and sold through pharmacies and groceries in the country, generating 50 million CFA Francs (€75,000) of profits for 500 women,” said Mahamat Sorto, the project's coordinator in Chad.
He estimated that natural production can be increased tenfold without any detrimental impact on the environment.
According to Sorto, the naturally-produced Chad variety has “better nutritional value” than algae grown commercially in anaerobic digesters. He also said it is 100 times cheaper than the produce retailed in developed countries.
However, FAO highlighted the need for tests on the product before it can be marketed outside Chad.
“Prior to broader promotion and marketing further tests on the product may be needed and international certification obtained,” said the organisation.