Development & Aid, Headlines

AGRICULTURE: Algae Farming On Madagascar’s Coasts Growing

James Ramarosaona

ANTANARIVO, Mar 18 1999 (IPS) - Algae farming off Madagascan coasts is a growing enterprise, which is expected to boost the export revenue of this Indian Ocean island.

Henri Randrianasolonjanahary, an oceanographer at the Ministry of Fishing in the capital Antanarivo, says there is growing worldwide demand for spirulina, a highly prized semi- microscopic algae, which is the most cultivated in Madacascar.

Randrianasolonjanahary says an effort is underway to grow 10 kilogrammes a day on the coast of Toliara, a city in the south of the country. In the same region, 300 hectares are already being devoted to the growing of spirulina.

Spirulina grows in lakes containing concentrated amounts of mineral salts. According to oceanographers, the south and the southwest of Madagascar are particularly well-suited to spirulina farming.

Even regions which do not posses the right conditions to grow algae can be conditioned to grow the crop. A team from Taratra, a multidisciplinary organisation based in the capital Antanarivo, is studying the possibility of growing spirulina in highland areas which have a low concentration of mineral salts.

Randrianasolonjanahary confirms that mineral salts are indispensable for growing spirulina, but that they can be harvested in the south and redistributed.

“It may be possible to mine the salts in the south and transport them to condition bodies of water in the upland areas. The studies are in progress and we’re hopeful,” he says.

Spirulina produced along the coast is exported. According to the Ministry of Fishing, worldwide demand is 1,500 metric tonnes, although at present, only 600 are produced.

Randrianasolonjanahary says that Madagascar possesses a colony of native, high-quality spirulina, which can easily compete with spirulina from Mexico and Chad, the world’s two major producers.

According to Randrianasolonjanahary, Madagascan spirulina contains the 10 essential amino acids plus vitamins A, E, B1, B2, B12.

Its composition is 60 to 70 percent protein, 14 to 24 percent lipids and mineral salts such as calcium, manganese, potassium, and magnesium.

The amount of protein in spirulina is very high compared to that in other plants. Oceanographers say protein derived per hectare is 50 metric tonnes annually, as against two metric tonnes for meat and and eight metric tonnes for wheat.

Because of its nutritional value, spirulina is in high demand in the United States. The shipping industry uses it as an emergency food in case of shipwreck.

In Japan, it is used in correcting nutritional imbalance in old age. Germany uses it in the manufacture of laundry products.

In Madagascar, there is also growing domestic demand. An animal feed company has already expressed a desire to invest almost 5 billion FMG (100,000 US Dollars) in the algae raising business.

In fact, the oceanographers note, growing spirulina requires very little in the way of investment but it must be treated and conditioned for export. A processing plant for this purpose should be created, they say.

Spirulina is a vital ingredient in the composition of animal feed products.

Experiments run by the oceanographers have found that adding spirulina to feed products for shrimp farming doubled the shrimps’ rate of growth.

Another experiment found that chickens fed on spirulina had a 95 percent increase in egg-laying.

Algae may also be a boon to the Malagasy people as a nutritional supplement, especially during the lean season, or when the price of the staple manioc (cassava), yams and potatoes, are soaring in the marketplace.

The oceanographers are certain that 45 to 50 kilogrammes of dried spirulina daily will mean survival for 4000 to 5000 people. In addition, the development of algae farming will create around 5000 jobs, the oceanographers say.

The farming of algae began fairly recently off Madagascar’s southern coast. It was subsequently extended off-shore at Mahajanga, in the northeast of the country, at Nosy Be, an island off the northern point famous for its tourist spots, and in the Vohemar region of the northeast.

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