SA schools join forces on spirulina project

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Copy of ca p11 Spirulina 2 done INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Heathfield High Grade 10 pupils grow and harvest spirulina algae in the science lab to help combat malnutrition. Photo: jason boud

Cape Town - It’s tasteless, odourless and is a deep shade of mossy green. It’s called spirulina, and it has the potential to change the world.

Floating in two-litre plastic bottles on the window sills of a high school classroom, the algae looks more like part of a science experiment than a carefully cultivated superfood. But the plant is full of vital nutrients, and studies suggest it might be the key to eradicating malnutrition worldwide.

Students from Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium in Tel Aviv have devised a method to grow the blue-green algae cheaply. They came to Cape Town last week to share the project at the Cape Academy of Maths, Science and Technology. Grade 10 pupils from Heathfield High School, the Centre for Science and Technology in Khayelitsha, Groenberg Secondary School in Grabouw and De RustFutura Academy in Elgin learned to grow the algae.

Ronwin George,17, a Heathfield High pupil, said he found the spirulina project interesting. “There’s a lot of protein in it, especially when you eat it fresh. It’ll make you healthy.”

Around 70 percent protein, with a high content of calcium, iron and potassium, the algae serves as a dietary supplement. Just a few tablespoons a day provides a boost of energy, vitamins and toxin-cleansing nutrients.

Pupils at Heathfield High have started growing spirulina at home, where their families can put a few grams of the plant into soups, muffins and peanut butter sandwiches.

Copy of ca p11 Spirulina done From left are Siyabulela Ntuli, Ronwin George, Keeno-Lee Ford and Epiphane Furaha. Below, Keeno-Lee inspects the algae paste before tasting it. Photo: jason boud INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

Fifteen-year-old Epiphane Furaha said her family “loves the stuff”. “We have like three grams a day. My parents always make sure that we have it.”

The green goo is a common ingredient in pricey tablets and powders at health food stores, but the pupils are harvesting it on the cheap through bulk purchases of the ingredients and the low-maintenance cultivation process. Mix a few chemicals in water, add a couple tablespoons of spirulina, then set the blend in the sun for a few days and the algae multiples by a factor of three or four.

“It can work anywhere, it’s very easy to access,” said Angela Stewart, who helped co-ordinate the collaboration with Israeli students.

Suzette Rademan, a life science teacher at Heathfield High, spearheaded the project there. She said that in addition to eating it raw, pupils were freezing the spirulina to build up stocks for a community soup kitchen next term.

Spirulina is already in high demand in some quarters. A teacher who has bought spirulina supplements for seven years now gets his fix fresh from the pupils’ cultivation. But Rademan said they won’t capitalise on it.

“We are not going to sell it. We are doing it for the love of our nation. We’re going to teach other schools and companies. We want to make a difference, to share.” - Cape Argus

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