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Super Food for the Future

As well as being home to some fabulous beaches, Tiwi, located on Kenya's South Coast, is home to something a little more surprising: a very sophisticated one-acre

farm that grows Arthrospira platensis – more commonly known as superfood Spirulina.

Started in 2014, Tiwani Spirulina aims to produce top quality spirulina at affordable prices. Before setting up the business, Tiwani Spirulina's founder and owner, Luke Harries, was already a spirulina convert. He'd been taking daily doses of spirulina powder for over 6 months,based on a friend's recommendation, and found it to have a positive impact on his energy levels and cognitive abilities. Today Tiwani Spirulina is a thriving company selling spirulina-based health products across Kenya.

But let's take a step back – what exactly is Spirulina? The word itself comes from Latin and means 'small spiral' and it's basically a tiny blue-green algae shaped like a spiral coil. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, 2008), it is a primitive organism originating some 3.5 billion years ago that uses carbon dioxide dissolved in seawater as a

nutrient source for its reproduction.

It grows naturally in mineral rich alkaline lakes such as Lake Texcoco in Mexico, Lake Chad and in several lakes closer to home in the Rift Valley.

Indeed, it is the favourite source of food for the flamingo populations of Lake Natron and Lake Nakuru. Tiwani Spirulina's own strain of spirulina comes from Lake Natron, mineral rich soda lake on the border between Kenya and Tanzania.

Spirulina was harvested by the Aztecs as far back as the16th Century, and traditionally made into a blue-green cake, reportedly popular with Aztec messenger runners. Closer to home in Central Africa, spirulina, known locally as Dihé, has been harvested and processed for generations by women of the Kanembu people who live near the wetlands of Lake Chad. There too, the brightly coloured algae is dried and made into algae cakes for sale in local markets. The cakes are then crumbled into stews and sauces to add nutrients to meals - or even eaten whole by pregnant woman.

So what makes spirulina so special? A quick look online produces a myriad of answers to this question – from it being the most nutritious food on the planet, to it being a potential solution to malnutrition and food security.

Reported health benefits include: improvements to muscle strength and endurance; better immune system function; blood pressure regulation; and improvements to cognitive ability. These claims may at first glance seem a bit far-fetched, especially for those of us who had never heard of spirulina, but they are in fact based on several key characteristics of the algae evidenced by scientific research.

Reported health benefits include: improvements to muscle strength and endurance; better immune system function; blood pressure regulation;and improvements to cognitive ability.

Spirulina is extremely high in many nutrients and is a great source of easily digestible protein, containing all the essential amino acids that the human body needs. Research supports that spirulina has antioxidant and anti- inflammatory properties (BMJ, 2003), antioxidants being powerful substances that protect our cells from damage. Some of the healing power of spirulinacomes from the detoxifying and antioxidant properties of phycocyanin,a complex molecule that gives the spirulina its blue- greencolour (InVite Health, 2018). Phycocyaninhas become a new hot spot in the field of drug research due

And there's more. In addition to this very impressive array of health benefits, Spirulina production is an extremely efficient way to produce protein and has a very small environmental footprint when c to other sources of protein. According the FAO (2008), it is much more effici in terms of water use, land occupati and energy consumption than traditional terrestrial crops, using just 2% of the water required to produce an equivalent amount of beef protein for example.

Now back to Tiwi and Tiwani Spirulina. When Luke started the businesses back in 2014, it was the result of his own personal experience of spirulina being beneficial to his health and well-being, a firm belief t this superfood was not going to be another 'fad that would fade' and a desire to something that was beneficial to people's health.

For Luke Harries, the pressures of modern life coupled with increased exposure to pollutants and processed foods mean that spirulina is the perfect addition to our diets. It helps get the right nutrients inside us when we don't always have the time (or the will!)

to eat a healthy and balanced diet.

Now four and half years on, they are perfecting the growing process and working on further increasing efficiency. The spirulina is grown in enclosed greenhouses inside concrete tanks, and after being harvested, the spirulina is dried in a solar oven at low temperatures and in the dark as this helps produce a better-quality spirulina. After 4 hours of drying the spirulina is powdered and then packed into capsules for ease of use.

Perfecting this production process and building the farm from scratch on a very limited budget has been a key challenge for Tiwani Spirulina. As this is a capital-intensive business, reducing the cost of production is essential to ensuring Tiwani Spirulina can achieve its aim of producing an affordable product to people of all walks of life and thus spread the benefits of spirulina as widely as possible. Staff training is also key to achieving this aim, and at Tiwani Spirulina they are keen to teach their staff about all aspects of aquaculture, so that they can develop personally alongside the business itself. They want their staff to be proud of their work, producing a Kenyan product that is great for health and at the same time manufactured in an ethical and ecologically sound way. For Luke Harries, Spirulina is our shortcut to better nutrition, health and well being, and he is confident that the future of this superfood is bright, hopefully as bright as the product itself.

Tiwani Spirulina is available throughout Kenya. Their largest outlet is Healthy U which has stores across Kenya. Check out their website to find the nearest store to you:

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