EnerGaia: Harvesting spirulina across urban rooftops, and empowering women in Bangladesh

EnerGaia has designed a way to farm spirulina – a nutritious, algae “super-food” – on urban rooftops and disused spaces in Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and now Bangladesh.

The Thai startup, with its small team of chemists and engineers, has pioneered a unique urban farming model which utilises excess space on rooftops for the cultivation of spirulina. The farming method involves installing edible algae-producing, CO2-eating bioreactors.

Spirulina, a blue-green algae that grows in both fresh and salt water, was consumed by the ancient Aztecs but became popular again when NASA proposed that it could be grown in space for use by astronauts.

A nutrient-dense food, spirulina contains all of the essential amino acids. Spirulina is also packed with healthy vitamins and minerals. Spirulina also contains calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and a small amount of zinc. In addition, iron in spirulina may be more easily absorbed by your body than iron from vegetables and meats, possibly because a blue pigment in the organism, called phycocyanin, forms a complex with iron that promotes its absorption.

Last year, EnerGaia was awarded a Grand Challenges Explorations​ grant, an initiative funded by the ​Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation​, for its latest project which aims to empower hundreds of women in rural Bangladesh with the technology and skills to grow spirulina.

By introducing spirulina farming, these women gain an additional source of income and a high protein, nutrient dense food source. By participating in a 3 month part-time training programme, graduates will qualify to engage in a lease-to-own program to start growing spirulina at their homes.

The aim is that the proximity to home and flexible work hours will not interfere with other forms of livelihood creation and daily tasks. A portion of each weekly spirulina harvest will go towards adding nutrients to their families’ diet, another portion will go towards payment of the equipment required to grow spirulina and a third portion will be sold to EnerGaia to yield added household income.

EnerGaia’s project will provide both a nutrition intervention and livelihood creation for the low-income Bangladeshi women and their families.

Spirulina is more environmentally sustainable in comparison to traditional sources of protein. For example spirulina requires approximately 500 times less water to produce 1 kilogram of protein in comparison to beef.

By harvesting spirulina, EnerGaia aims to provide a sustainable food and nutrition source that can be utilised for its unparallelled combination of nutritional value and consumption of greenhouse gasses. EnerGaia strives to be more than a food production company, food should be sustainable, meaning that the production of food should not be harmful to the environment.

EnerGaia originally started life in Bangkok in 2009 where it currently runs two urban farms – the first, atop Hotel Novotel Bangkok on Siam Square, in downtown Bangkok, and a second in Bangkok’s Green Zone.

Packaged in fresh, dry and frozen powder forms, the harvested algae is sold to customers who can them mix it directly into recipes or consumed as a vitamin supplement.


Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea

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