Feeding malnourished children with spirulina algae

A SPIRULINA pond in Mansa district where the product is currently being grown.

THOUGH overlooked by many as a mere water weed, spirulina is one of the most researched plants in the world owing to its high

nutritional value.
Spirulina is a natural algae, blue-greenish in colour. It grows naturally as a freshwater plant and when harvested, it is consumed in powder form.
It is suitable for human consumption and people around the world use it for different purposes.
Some people use it for medical purposes, while others take it as a food supplement to maintain good health.
Spirulina is highly nutritious and contains about 50 to 70 percent proteins; it is rich in iron, amino fluids and carotenes and contains other micro-nutrients as well.
In Mansa, it is being grown in ponds in the communities because of its high medicinal and nutritional value.
Zambia has in the recent past been importing spirulina from the United States of America (USA).
However, due to high demand, imported products could not meet the demand, prompting the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI) to engage in local production of spirulina.
Working with ZARI in Luapula province is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Programme against Malnutrition (PAM) that is pro-moting the production and consumption of spirulina in Luapula.
Precious Watanuka is PAM’s project co-ordinator and she explains the nutritional value of spirulina in an interview.
“Spirulina is highly nutritious and helps to promote good health. Because of its nutrition value, we recently engaged in a project to distribute the product to children who have severe malnutrition in Luapula Province.
“To sustain this project, we have been importing the product from USA but we have seen that this is unsustainable. So, we are now promoting local production of spirulina and right now, we are working in Luapula Province where we are producing and promoting utilisation of spirulina,” Ms Watanuka said.
The production of spirulina in ponds in Luapula Province has been going on for almost a year and so far, the plant is showing good signs of adjust-ing to Zambia’s climatic pattern.
Soon the campaigners will be moving to other regions to encourage the production of the special algae in community ponds.
However, the harvesting of locally-produced spirulina has not yet began in Luapula and other parts of the country.
The product awaits completion of trials by the Zambia Bureau of Standards (ZABS) for it to be standardised.
“We are already producing spirulina in Luapula Province but we have not yet started distributing the locally-grown one as the product is still under-going trials. Soon, we will start promoting production in other areas as well to enhance access,” Ms Watanuka.
Although in the ongoing programme, the distribution of spirulina is targeting children with malnutrition, adults too can consume the alga because of its many nutritional and health benefits.
Spirulina possesses anti-cancer properties and when consumed regularly, it can prevent cancerous diseases.
It also combats anaemia and other related diseases and is good for controlling hypertension and high cholesterol levels.
Because of its high nutrient composition, spirulina stimulates the immune system and detoxifies the body from any pollutants and poisonous sub-stances.
Besides that, medical experts say people who consume spirulina regularly, will hardly suffer memory loss and insomnia.
Ms Watanuka encouraged grownups to make it a point to consume spirulina though they may not be sick.
She says other than curing malnutrition, the product is good for prevention and controlling of different types of diseases.
“Spirulina detoxifies any poisonous substances in the body. It prevents diseases like cancer, diabetes, insomnia and memory loss.
“Spirulina enhances concentration for school children and elderly people who are busy with work. It makes the brain operate effectively and most people that have been eating it have a high intelligence quotient,” she said.
Spirulina is usually taken as a food supplement. One can add it to such foods as rice, potatoes, porridge, gravy and beverages.
It can also be blended with flour to make fritters, scones and biscuits.
Just a single teaspoon of spirulina to any meal or beverage is enough to make a balanced diet.
It’s no wonder people in the USA where the product is commonly used nick-named it ‘Super Food’.
Rosemary Kangwa, (28) of Kalaba village in Mansa district shares how she and her community benefitted from spirulina consumption.
She recalls that her son was once severely malnourished but resuscitated after feeding him with spirulina for three consecutive months.
Other community members in Mansa also attest to the benefits of the product in reviving malnourished children.
“My son was severely malnourished when he was about two years. I was almost losing hope but after hearing about spirulina, I was enrolled on the spirulina feeding programme.
“I started feeding my son spirulina porridge three times in a day and within three months, he was back to normal health,” Ms Kangwa says.
Since PAM started the distribution of spirulina in Luapula Province in November last year, over 450 children have benefitted.
An extra 750 malnourished children are expected to benefit during the second phase of the project, starting in November this year.
Demand for spirulina continues to increase in that part of Zambia but not much is known about the food supplement in other parts of the country.
The task for the nutritionists and their associates is to raise awareness on health and nutritional benefits of spirulina to encourage production and consumption of the food supplement.

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