Harvest of hope: spirulina from Lake Chad
On the shores of Lake Chad, a group of women and girls work in the shade of a solitary tree. Temperatures here regularly soar past 40℃ yet the women work tirelessly to harvest and process the blue-green algae known to health-conscious consumers all over the world as spirulina. Nearby, a cage contains racks of drying spirulina paste, which, once turned into tablets, can sell for up to €20 a pack in western health stores.
As well as being an eco-friendly, nutrient-rich dietary supplement for humans and animals, spirulina is being promoted as a possible solution to food insecurity and malnutrition in developing countries. But this is no modern-day food fad - spirulina has been used for centuries as a traditional food by indigenous peoples in both Africa and Central America.
In that sense, these young women are transforming a traditional practice - work historically done by women from the Kanembu tribe - into a much-needed source of jobs and income. Climate change and a rapidly expanding population has caused Lake Chad to shrink by 90 percent since the 1960s, and creating more jobs is crucial to both protecting the shrinking lake and addressing the wider humanitarian crisis in the Sahel.
The spirulina processing is part of an €8 million project by the EU’s flagship climate change programme GCCA+ to help communities in Chad adapt to the impacts of climate change and develop renewable energies. Aitambodou, one of the young women from the group, demonstrates how she transforms the blue green algae into a dry powder using a grinder, which she then mixes with water to form a thick paste. Nearby, her friend Tayrah scoops handfuls of the bright green paste from a plastic bucket and moulds it for drying in a specially-built rack.
Solar panels provide energy to irrigate the fields, helping to cultivate not only spirulina but also fenugreek, aubergines, chilies, onions, carrots, tomatoes and beetroot. Given that Chad is highly vulnerable to climate change, using solar powered irrigation systems helps farmers deal with unpredictable rainfall patterns.
In recent years, there has been a drop in agricultural productivity, which in turn means less income and greater poverty for the farmers and their families. Now, farmers are getting together to buy and install cheap solar motor pumps and to learn how to keep them well maintained. Permanent access to water allows them to harvest at least three crops a year instead of one. Thanks to this simple, climate-friendly technology, Aitambodou and her friends can earn enough money to care for their families and educate their children.