Written by Michelle Park, Product Developer at Spira, Inc.
THE CYCLE OF POVERTY AND MALNUTRITION
Notoriously known as the world’s “silent killer,” severe acute malnutrition among growing children continues to ravage impoverished communities around the world. According to the United Nations, the pandemic heightened hunger’s numbers last year: A tenth of the world’s population was reported to be malnourished. For children, acute malnourishment means that growth and development are more likely to be stunted, causing cognitive and physiological impairments that could otherwise be prevented with proper nutrition in the early stages of life.
Although defined as chronic calorie, protein, or micronutrient deficiencies, malnutrition comes from more than eating too little of the right foods. The onset of the malnutrition crisis is deeply ingrained in a governing system’s failures to address bottom-of-the-pyramid economics, provide the proper education, and implement long-term solutions enabling access to basic nutrition. These are only a few among many frustratingly hard-to-tackle issues that stem from an ultra-complex problem: poverty.
Due to drought and other environmentally disastrous events, afflicted areas are unable to produce more crops, which perpetuates poverty in these regions. To fight malnutrition, it is imperative to lift these communities out of poverty. This cycle of poverty and malnutrition must be emphasized so that current and potential leaders in these communities can implement strategies that address the issue from its core.
One very accessible and immediate solution is to grow spirulina.
Touted among the veggie-squeezing, iron-pumping, uberthon-running people of the world as a superfood, the nutritional profile of spirulina truly cannot be beaten. Used by the Aztecs for its nutritive properties, its popularity has only resurfaced within the last few decades. The United Nations World Food Conference of 1974 deemed spirulina as the “best food of the future,” and the World Health Organization encourages spirulina to be consumed by children who suffer from malnutrition. Spirulina is over half protein by weight, which is 85 percent more protein than chicken breast. It is also saturated with essential micronutrients such as potassium, iron, magnesium, and calcium. In impoverished regions where diseases such as HIV and AIDS have high prevalence, spirulina has been effective at rehabilitating children and helping them put on weight. A quick Google of the properties of spirulina will return numerous well-documented research and case-studies of its nutritive capabilities.
POWER OF SPIRULINA
This nutritional powerhouse is not only an excellent dietary choice, but the growth and cultivation of spirulina lay the groundwork for a circular economy in rural areas. In 2007, Urs Heili from the Swiss Agency of Development and Cooperation researched and developed an extensive report detailing the efforts that such an excursion would entail. Because spirulina grows in saline and alkaline pools, it does not require fertile land, or even fresh water. In fact, spirulina’s use of water resources is significantly more efficient than other crops and livestock. It uses 25 percent of the water used for soy, 17 percent for corn, and only 2 percent of the water required for beef. The only major water loss during cultivation is through evaporation. Thus, growing spirulina is conducive to arid ecosystems and societies, where vegetation, water and proper nutrition are generally lacking.
Growing spirulina helps build a strong educational foundation for the women and mothers of poor societies, particularly in areas surrounding Lake Chad. This is important because a solution to malnutrition can only be achieved if the afflicted are aware of their afflictions.
“People who suffer or whose children suffer from malnutrition cannot be passive recipients of programs. If they are not the main players in problem assessment and analysis, then actions to reduce malnutrition are likely to be inappropriate or unsustainable.” - State of the World’s Children Report, UNICEF, 1998
Mothers are more aware and engaged in nourishing their children if they are incentivized by engaging in the business of spirulina cultivation. Empowering these women is crucial, as it gives them the trust and credibility that is needed for a successful business. As women and young girls are more vulnerable to hunger, groups like the Laikipia Permaculture Center have committed themselves to work with women extending their rights in land ownership and fight food insecurities. In the fight against hunger and poverty, women-centered programs like these should continue to grow, and an efficient food source like spirulina is an excellent medium.
Marketing content for spirulina has exploded in the 21st century. As mass demand continues to grow, small non-government organizations are developing in response to new opportunities. These organizations create business within rural communities and generate income for locals. Thus, these small businesses are started through public support and create a self-sustaining cycle that helps fight malnutrition while making income for local entrepreneurs. Furthermore, as an affordable food supplement, spirulina goes a long way; Just 1 gram (about ⅓ of a teaspoon) a day for 90 days covers a sufficient nutritional profile for infants and children 16 months to 5 years old. Eventually, it will be feasible for private businesses to run nutritional supplement programs without relying on subsidies.
Today, the limelight shines on spirulina and more broadly, algae, as industries across the board are becoming aware of algae’s versatility, strength, and carbon-neutrality. These reasons are only partly why Spira is dedicated to providing carbon-negative algal compounds to companies. Beyond food, spirulina and other algae are useful in all sorts of applications and the demand is only growing. Spira provides compounds, research, and education as a service to businesses in the US, and helps to serve the rural workers and farmers that produce spirulina beyond our borders. In 2017, Spira attended the UN World Food Program to develop plans to help refugee camps cultivate spirulina. In addition to this work, Spira ensures that its supply comes from farms that provide direct returns to the women workers in their communities.
SPIRULINA AS A SOLUTION
Spirulina is affordable, low-maintenance, and is resilient to natural disasters. Packed with protein and essential micronutrients, spirulina is an efficient source of nutrition for children and pregnant women. The business of growing spirulina is an all-around efficient mitigation strategy to help lift poor and starving communities in the world out of poverty. With the proper implementation and education, spirulina has the potential to prevent the perpetuation of poverty and malnutrition globally.