Wonder food with all nutrients

It's called a wonder food for the malnourished, an edible variety of micro-algae, and it is being grown on a farm in the state that overcome hunger in the 1960s with a green revolution that turned it into the "food bowl of India".

Spirulina is being cultivated on a 15-acre farm at Randhawa village of Dasuya in Hoshiarpur district, the most backward district of the state. It contains essential minerals, vitamins, proteins, and amino acids, and studies have concluded that a daily course of three grams (or 6500mg tablets, say those marketing these) supplies the nutritional equivalent of two servings of fresh vegetables.

Hoshirapur's Hash Biotech Farm has been set up by a private limited company, also called Hash Biotech. It is an official working partner (the only corporate entity among over a dozen such partners) of the UN-accredited Inter-governmental Institution for the use of Micro-Algae Spirulina against Malnutrition (IIMSAM).

The farm comprises shallow, man-made ponds, 12 measuring 300m50m and 10 smaller ones measuring 20050.

"This old faithful plant has provided complete nutrition, unmatched in value, for over 3.5 million years but only in the past 75 years have we become familiar with spirulina," says Vikrant Sandal, chairman of the Chandigarh-based Hash Group of Companies.

The plant was set up in 2007, was inaugurated by UN special envoy Manish Uprety in 2009, and spent the first five on research and development. "We started selling the product in the market less than a year ago. We are producing 100 tonnes spirulina annually. Harvesting takes place almost daily, and a little carelessness may damage the entire cultivation in the pond," says Sandal, a mechanical engineer and MBA now based in Dasuya. "We chose Dasuya because the conditions are ideal for its cultivation."

A plant is being set up to extract powder from dried spirulina; this will then be converted into tablets at a Uttarakhand-based plant. Sandal says the farm's primary objective is to help the UN achieve its millennium development goal of 'right to food' in 1996. "Spirulina is quite affordable and governments can provide it in government schools where 60 to 70 per cent children are anaemic. This can fight malnutrition and hunger among the underprivileged at the grassroots," he says, adding spirulina is 58 times as rich in iron as spinach is.

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