An ancient food against malnutrition

It's called Spirulina. It's its spiral shape, and not its properties, the one that gives it its name. Because the multiple health benefits of this microalgae of bluish green actually pave — they do not twist — the way to end malnutrition. Although it has become popular recently — there are those who call it Blue Gold— Spirulina is a living being "so primitive that it is halfway between a plant and an animal, belongs to the family of the first organisms that appear on Earth 3,500 thousand Loners of years, "says biologist Paula Rivero.

In the World Food Conference of the year 1974, Spirulina was defined as one of the best foods for the future of humankind. Long before, it had not gone unnoticed for the Aztec civilization. "It is documented that when the colonizers went to Mexico, the locals collected from Lake Texcoco a kind of green mass, filtered it, dried it in filter cloths and ate it. There are drawings of the time of all this and it was also said that the runners ate this green mass and used it to transmit information from one side of the country, Rivero explains.

Today we know that this is a cyanobacteria. In other words, a bacterium capable of photosynthesis, the biologist points out. "In the Sixties, some Belgians made a Saharan expedition and when they arrived at Lake Chad they realized that the population that lived around, the kanembú, differed in their physical constitution of the other populations that they had seen and did not present Nutritional deficiencies, so they started investigating. They observed that the women went to the lake to filter a green mass, they dried it and they prepared a kind of cookie to which they called Dihé, which they then sold in the market. So the Belgians took a sample of the lake, returned to their country and analyzed it. It was then that they realized that they were in front of one of the most complete foods that exist at nutritional level and the richest in proteins and iron.

Rivero has been working for two years in the Spirulina Sahra'OuiProject, which seeks to take advantage of Spirulina properties in Western Sahara, where, according to a report by Oxfam, in 2015, the incidence of anemia was about 60% among women . "For Sahrawi children, these high rates of anemia are a burden from birth. According to UNICEF (the United Nations Children's Fund), between 25% and 30% of children living in camps suffer from growth deficits, which irreparably affects brain development, "the paper notes.

"But it is a refugee camp and a very large investment is needed," clarifies Rivero to add that the financing of the project is achieved through private donations and the organization of the festival La Spiruchonade, held in France. So they need more resources and for now they are focusing on distributing these microalgae in the Sahara from other places of African production. "We carry Spirulina from Burkina Faso and ask them to take it with Moringa, which is a vitamin C-rich food that is present because an American NGO planted it years ago," she explains.

Rivero, with a project named Microgreen, has proposed to offer microalgae as an alternative to improve food from three areas: consumption, research and cooperation. The idea covers from the distribution of this food to the creation of a World Bank of Spirulina to identify all the varieties that exist of this microalgae and "to propose to the different producers at world level, both commercial and humanitarian, the Strain that best suits your requirements "; and combating malnutrition by promoting the incorporation of Spirulina into the diet of malnourished populations.

Niños lavan la ropa en el lago Arenguadi (Etiopía), lleno de espirulina.Children wash Clothes in Lake Arenguadi (Ethiopia), full of spirulina. Paula Rivero

This last objective has recently led Rivero to another African country: "In Ethiopia the possibilities are many, because you could get a much higher productivity of spirulina thanks to crops associated with the natural lakes there. The Ministry of Health was open to send proposals: Spirulina is the future. "