Chandra, a resident of Grand Layon Village near Red Hills, knows it as pasai. Joining her husband Marimuthu, in the cultivation of spirulina, four years ago, she doesn’t know that it is a super food as approved by World Health Organisation, but she knows that it is healthy and can help them have sustainable income. Chandra is among the five women near Red Hills who are involved in spirulina cultivation initiated by Uma Krishna, an entrepreneur, who runs Mystic Green, a brand of super foods, including spirulina, wheat grass, and green tea.
Miles away at Nallayan Research Center in Navalaur, Venetra, a Sri Lankan refugee, has been involved in spirulina cultivation for several years now. She constantly upgrades her skills through training by Uma, who has done her B.Tech in biotechnology. Uma’s dream of following in her father’s footsteps as an entrepreneur found a perfect calling in spirulina with an emphasis on women empowerment and healthy food.
She says, “Spirulina, which is rich in proteins, has been endorsed by WHO decades ago, but not many people are aware of it. At a project in Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI), I saw it being used for treatment of effluents. After research, I decided to focus on growing spirulina.”
Soon, after undergoing training at Nallayan Research Center, Organisation for Eelam Refugees’ Rehabilitation (OfERR), Uma set up her own unit in Red Hills, where she has trained women in and around Grand Layon village. So far, Uma and her husband Krishna have been training underprivileged women, farmers to grow spirulina in their backyard which will help them to nourish themselves and their family members. Krishna, who joined his wife in the business later, says that the training is hands on for all of them. “We first tell them to set up their own unit in their house, see the benefits and then cultivate it. These people pick up the basics quickly,” they say. Apart from underprivileged people, Uma has also trained women from self-help groups and IT professionals who get into farming, at the research center.
“The income depends on the size of the unit. For every kg of spirulina, people like Chandra and Venetra make anywhere between Rs1,000-Rs1,200. In some villages, they sell the products through doctors and also use it in their farm, as it accelerates the laying of eggs among chicken,” she says.
So far, Uma has trained people from across Tamil Nadu and recently from Punjab. “We have a social worker, who has come all the way from Italy to know more about it. More than commercial viability, it is about healthy living. The women see the change and then recommend it for their family. Spirulina has a raw taste and smell, but many adapt to it well. They come back and say they are happy as they save a lot on medicines — that’s the change we aim to usher in,” she says.
The climate in Tamil Nadu is congenial for spirulina, which can be grown in cement or plastic tanks of any convenient size. The proportion of salts in the water determines the growth and within ten days the spirulina is ready for harvest.