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Chad: development of dihe for vulnerable populations

11/09/2009Dihe is the local name in Chad for an African group of algae that grows in the regions of Kanem and Lake Chad. The harvesting, sale and human consumption practices of dihe are unique in the world.

A Pilot Project of the dihe sector development in Chad is carried out within the Framework Convention EC/FAO contained in the Agreement of Cooperation Chad - European Union. The main purpose of the project is to improve food security in Chad while contributing to the implementation of the National Program for Food Security (NPFS) and to the fight against poverty in rural areas. The specific objectives of the project are improvement of the production quality, promotion of the product marketing, capacity building of female producers, enhancement of the drinking water supply and improvement of the conditions of small-scale livestock and vegetable production as well as income generating activities.

The project works in cooperation with La Société de Développement du Lac (SODELAC), L’Institut Tchadien de Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (ITRAD), L’Office National de Développement Rural (ONDR), L’Institut National de Recherche pour les Aliments et la Nutrition (INRAN), the NGO “Chibina”, UNICEF and WHO, as well as other national and international institutions.

Production
The total production of dihe in 14 wadis supported by the project is estimated at about 388.8 tons per year. The current production of dihe in Chad is probably underestimated due to the lack of data. The production period of dihe varies from wadis and regions and may reach up to six months a year.

Traditional and improved process
The traditional processing of dihe is composed of two steps: collecting and drying dihe on the ground. The dihe is consumed in the form of a sauce and requires a long cooking period, causing the loss of nutrients. To overcome this problem, the project has developed a simple method for the preparation of improved dihe that uses local equipment and materials for harvesting, drying and packaging dihe. The resulting products are free from sand and impurities and can be consumed dry or fresh without cooking; this process leads also to better nutrient conservation.

Quality
The traditional and improved dihe are very rich in protein (over 60% of the dry matter): the protein content of similar products is six times higher than meat and two times higher as soybean flour. The lipid fraction of dihe (6-8%) is characterized by a good balance between saturated fatty acid and poly-unsaturated fatty acids. The traditional and improved dihe are sources of minerals, the most important are potassium, sodium, phosphorus, iron, calcium and magnesium. The iron content of dihe is very high (10 times the iron contained in whole grain cereal). It is also an important source of fatty acids and folate (important during growth period and foetus development).

Marketing
According SODELAC in 2000, over 90% of the production is usually sold by female producers. The price of traditional dihe varies from market places and regions. In the market places closest to the production sites, prices are lowest: 500-800 CFAF/koro (100 CFAF = USD 0.22 in September 2009; 1 koro is equivalent to about 1.6 kilograms).
The development of improved dihe in the production area is modifying harvesting patterns and business practices. Before the project, the improved dihe was unknown by local people and female producers as it has been used in its traditional form for centuries. Furthermore, compared with other similar products sold in the African and international markets, the improved dihe is cheaper.

Training of female producers
Approximately 450 women were trained in Good Production Practices (GPP) for harvesting, drying and packaging the dihe and in Good Hygienic Practices (GHP) and 800 women have attended training in the common management of associative life (compliance with laws and internal regulations, keeping of an account book, management of incomes). Training activities in other related fields are also planned.

Conclusions
•    Chad holds a high potential for dihe production and is the only country where it is consumed locally.
•    The introduction of new techniques for harvesting, drying and packaging has resulted in a product of higher hygienic quality and increased marketing potential. Many people who refused to eat the traditional dihe are now starting to use the improved version of dihe.
•    Beyond the profits and gains earned by the female producers, the consumption of improved dihe greatly contributes to the improvement of the nutritional status of consumers, in particular of children and women.

Recommendations
•    A comprehensive work on the characterization of wadis and the evaluation of the production potential of dihe is needed and would help in knowing the total production in Chad.
•    The toxicological quality of dihe is a crucial issue for the future of this product. The results currently obtained are not too alarming in terms of cadmium, lead and chromium content. However, as there are still no official standards on heavy metal content for micro algae products, a thorough study on the factors of accumulation of heavy metals seems essential to assess the frequency of consumption and the quantity consumed by local populations; and to define international standards for dihe.
•    The commercial sector of dihe is still embryonic and the circuit remains informal. With the introduction of improved dihe, further studies are necessary to promote its production and consumption (structure of product traceability; marketing strategy, efficiency tests of dihe supplementation in the traditional diet of patients, studies on the sale and distribution networks of dihe as nutraceutical).
•    As a consequence of the important achievements of the project, the Government of Chad has already confirmed to the European Commission the request to support the second phase of the project under the 10th EDF (European Development Fund) a Program of Support to Local Development (PSLD). Based on the request of the Government and the interest expressed by the European Commission, FAO, in collaboration with its partners, will prepare and submit a concept note to the EU.

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