Earlier this month, 16 NGOs attended an information day at Antenna Technologies’ Siem Reap algae farm to learn more about the production and benefits of spirulina, a micro algae which grows well in tropical climates and is high in protein, vitamins, iron, calcium and other nutritional goodies.
The Siem Reap algae farm opened in May 2011 and started producing spirulina a few months later in November. The farm, which provides sustainable jobs for ten local employees, consists of four large tanks which house the spirulina, and two more tanks will soon be built to increase production.
Jean-François Biela, Antenna’s Cambodian representative, explained the benefits of the algae saying, “Spirulina can get children out of a state of malnutrition and help them recover. It is exceptionally high in vitamin A and iron.”
At present, Antenna works in partnership with three NGOs but wants to increase this number. It distributes some of its produce commercially at market value, but much of it is sold in poor rural communities below cost by micro businesses. These local sellers are trained in the benefits of spirulina and how it should be consumed, and supported in their business by Antenna.
A 10-day supply for one child is sold to families for 1500 riel, allowing the reseller to make a small profit. Biela said, “We try to make the packaging as simple as possible and we spend a lot of time on training.”
“We want to focus on children under five years old who suffer from chronic malnutrition as it is important for their brain development that they have good nutrition. Our other targets are pregnant women, breastfeeding women and people living with HIV.”
Antenna provides training and free samples for six-week courses so organisations can assess benefits and outcomes. Thereafter they can purchase the supplement at a low cost, in bulk, from Antenna.
Antenna is in the process of getting an agreement with the Ministry of Health to have spirulina recognised as a food supplement in Cambodia. Biela hopes that the farm can then be handed over to full Cambodian management.
There is some skepticism about the benefits of the algae as large-scale peer-reviewed studies have yet to be carried out. But Biela said, “In our experience and from all our feedback we always get the same answers: the children sleep better, they feel better, they feel stronger, they are less sick. Sometimes they say they feel cleverer, and their hair and skin looks healthier.”
Curious expats looking to sample the algae can buy a packet from Peace Café and test the results of this locally grown product themselves.