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Kenyan doctor’s spirulina farm boosts immunity

May 31, 2016
AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com

Left: Samson Wanyama, Dr. Githanga and wife Jessie begin harvesting spirulina at their greenhouse farm in Kenya. Photo: Boniface Thuku

Left: Samson Wanyama, Dr. Githanga and wife Jessie begin harvesting spirulina at their greenhouse farm in Kenya. Photo: Boniface Thuku

Mercy Kahenda writes in the Standard Daily about Dr. David Githanga, a pediatrician and cardiologist in Kenya who educates mothers and expectant women on proper child nutrition. To help boost the immune systems in children, as well as for the elderly people living with HIV/AIDs, he and his wife, Dr. Jessie Githanga, grow spirulina at their farm in Gilgil, in Southwest Kenya, not far from Nairobi.

Dr. Githanga says he was inspired to establish a spirulina farm by his profession, which instilled in him the desire to help boost the immune systems of infants. “It is heartbreaking to receive patients with deteriorated health conditions which can be prevented through proper feeding. I decided to grow this crop to provide a solution to people with low immunity,” Dr. Githanga told Smart Harvest.

To provide controlled conditions for the crop, he established a 19.5 meters by 7.8 meters greenhouse. Inside are 12 cement cultivation troughs measuring six meters by one meter each. The greenhouse is installed with gutters to harvest rainwater, which is then channeled into a tank. “Rainwater is the best in spirulina farming because it has no chemicals like water sourced from rivers and dams,” he says.

When starting the venture, he bought five liters of substrate (seeds) from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology at Sh1,000 each ($10 USD). He was also trained by specialists from the university on how to produce quality yields.

Harvesting is done every day once a pond is full and thick with spirulina. “Seven days after planting, the crop was thick enough for harvesting,” he said.

The spirulina crop is turned over every two hours to break its long strings into smaller pieces for faster growth. Agitation also helps in aeration, and prevents the crop from dying. “If the crop is left to concentrate on the top layer, it can easily dry and die,” he says.

During harvesting, he uses a net to separate the crop from water. The harvested crop is placed on a drying trough where it takes at least two days for it to dry. It is then crushed into powder and packaged for sale.

Dr. Githanga harvests at least 360 grams of dried spirulina every day. He sells the dried crop to individual consumers and pharmaceuticals. A kilogram sells for at least Sh6,000 ($60 USD).

He says his main challenge is lack of market because most Kenyans do not know the crop or its health benefits. “My joy is seeing people live happily and free of diseases. This is the reason I am planning to woo more farmers into spirulina,” he says.

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