Nutrient-rich algae from Chad could help fight malnutrition

Dihé boosts local women's incomes too

29 July 2010, Rome - A nutrient-rich indigenous produce holds out the hope of a better life for the impoverished women who harvest it on the edges of Lake Chad, and may also one day make a contribution to fighting malnutrition.

Under a $1.4 million project funded by the European Union and run by FAO the women are gathering and processing increasing quantities of a remarkable produce known locally as Dihé, a variety of the blue-green algae called Spirulina.

Dihé is a rich source of protein, iron and betacarotene and can enhance the nutritional value of diets that are poor in these nutrients.

FAO Project

In Chad Dihé is customarily harvested by vulnerable women of the low "Blacksmith" caste from the shallow pools of water where it forms at certain times of the year. Launched in 2007, the project showed them how to do the job more efficiently and hygienically, and how to process, package and market the produce.

Traditionally, Dihé is filtered out directly on the sandy ground near the Wadis (river beds, where conditions are suitable for the development of natural Spirulina), dried into a thin biscuit and subsequently made into a bitter-tasting sauce.  

According to Mahamat Sorto, the project's coordinator in Chad, ten tons of improved Dihé have now been produced and sold through pharmacies and groceries in the country, generating 50 million CFA Francs (€75,000) of profits for 500 women.

He estimated that production can be increased tenfold while maintaining the delicate ecological balance which allows the algae to grow under natural conditions. In order to reproduce naturally in the open, it needs a very specific environment - such as that of the brackish water pools that form on the northeastern shore of Lake Chad at the end of the rainy season. It also needs daytime temperatures of 35-37C dropping to 15-20 C at night. 

Market Potential

Commercially-produced Spirulina currently has a rising niche market as a dietary supplement. The algae are grown commercially in anaerobic digesters but Sorto claimed the naturally-produced Chad variety has better nutritional value. It is also 100 times cheaper than the produce retailed in developed countries.

However, prior to broader promotion and marketing further tests on the product may be needed and international certification obtained.

Photo: ©FAO/Marzio Marzot
Traditional Dihé processing on Lake Chad