The Green Friendship Bridge project proposes to shift the money required to construct 13 miles of additional border wall (only 0.7% of the unfinished wall) and instead build 8,600 algae microfarms. These high-value, low cost microfarms will be given to Mexican and Central American farmers. The microfarms will enable farmers and families to grow algae-based food, feed, biofertilizers and healthy nutritional products locally on tiny land footprints so they can stay home and not be forced by economics to migrate.

The many microfarm health benefits may eclipse the economics of job creation and local food production. Farmers may choose to grow spirulina, chlorella or a local indigenous algae adapted to the specific microclimate. Most microfarmers begin producing spirulina because it is the easiest to grow and is indigenous to the region.

Why spirulina?

Spirulina grows naturally in mineral-rich alkaline lakes that can be found on every continent, often near volcanoes. The largest natural stands of spirulina today can be found at Lake Texcoco in Mexico, around Lake Chad in Central Africa and along the Great Rift Valley in east Africa.

Two of the best books on spirulina: (L) by Robert Henrikson and (R) by Gershwin and Belay.

Two of the best books on spirulina: (L) by Robert Henrikson and (R) by Gershwin and Belay.

Many spirulina species have been found globally, but two that are indigenous to California, Mexico and Mesoamerica are spirulina platensis and spirulina maxima. Each has been widely cultivated and studied extensively due to their high nutritional and therapeutic values.

In Mexico and Central America, spirulina grows spontaneously in ponds and lakes. It thrives in fresh, brine and salt water. Many climates in Mexico and Central America can grow spirulina year round. Spirulina is typically eaten locally fresh or dried. Solar drying it into a powder creates flour similar to food grains that can be made into bread, tortillas, crepes or cakes. Fresh spirulina can be eaten directly without any processing or cooking, eliminating costly energy consumption.

Spirulina has a colorful history as a nutritional food source for the Aztecs in Mexico. One of Cortés’ soldiers described how local Aztec women harvested spirulina from Lake Texcoco and sold spirulina cakes in the local market. The Aztecs called it Tecuitlatl, which means the stone’s excrement. French researchers rediscovered abundant spirulina in the lake during the 1960s and the industry has flourished since.

Spirulina served as a food in Chad, as far back as the 9th century Kanem Empire. Today it is dried into cakes called Dihe, which are made into soups, stews, breads and cookies and sold fresh in local markets. The spirulina is harvested from small lakes and ponds around Lake Chad using methods that date back centuries.

Spirulina cakes for sale near Lake Chad

Spirulina cakes for sale near Lake Chad

Today spirulina is consumed by millions of people all over the world due to strong health benefits and nutritive value. Spirulina became popular again when both the Soviet Space Program and NASA proposed that it could be grown in space and used by astronauts for food, nutritional supplements and reclaiming wastewater. The Great Algae Space Race in the 1950s and 60s reignited demand for spirulina. Recent NASA and European Space Agency research on supporting astronaut travel to Mars has rekindled interest in spirulina for space flights.

The UN-Food and Agriculture Organization, (FAO) recommends both national governments and inter-governmental organizations re-evaluate the potential of spirulina to fulfill both their own food security needs as well as a tool for their overseas development emergency response efforts. The World Health Organization, (WHO), calls spirulina “An interesting food for multiple reasons, rich in iron and protein, and can be administered to children without any risk. We at WHO consider it a very suitable food.” WHO currently sponsors small microfarms in Kenya, Iraq, Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic/Haiti, Peru and Columbia. Spirulina was declared by the United Nations World Food Conference of 1974 as the “best food for the future.”

Spirulina nutrition

Spirulina is a cyanobacteria, but is often referred to as blue-green algae. Spirulina, similar to terrestrial plants, can produce energy out of sunlight, via photosynthesis. The rich green biomass has the highest nutralence — nutrient density, diversity and bioavailability – of any food on earth. Spirulina packs in protein, vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and antioxidants that can help protect cells from damage. Spirulina contains some 60 substances beneficial to the human organism, including all essential amino acids, a broad variety of minerals and vitamins, carotenoids and antioxidants. It contains nutrients, including B-complex vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin E, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, selenium, and gamma linolenic acid (an essential fatty acid).

Spirulina grows in microscopic spirals, which tend to stick together, making it easy to harvest. It has an intense blue-green color, but a relatively mild taste. The FDA allows manufacturers to use spirulina as a color additive in candy and other packaged foods. Spirulina may be marketed in the U.S. as a food supplement and has GRAS status (Generally Accepted as Safe) from the FDA.

Spirulina’s spirals and valuable blue and green pigments

Spirulina’s spirals and valuable blue and green pigments

A single tablespoon, (7 grams) of dried spirulina powder contains:

  • Protein: 4 grams.
  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): 11% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): 15% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 4% of the RDA.
  • Copper: 21% of the RDA.
  • Iron: 11% of the RDA.

It also contains magnesium, potassium and manganese, and small amounts of almost every other micronutrient we need. The tablespoon delivers only 20 calories and 1.7 grams of digestible carbohydrate.

A tablespoon of spirulina contains a small amount of fat (around 1 gram), including both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in about a 1.5:1 ratio. The quality of the protein in spirulina is considered excellent, comparable to eggs and contains all the essential amino acids. A quarter pound spirulina vegie burger delivers 2½ times the protein of beef and more than twice the protein of soybean.

The following sections highlight the health benefits from local spirulina production.

Health benefits

Many families are food insecure and do not get sufficient nutrients. In El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, over 50% of children under five are malnourished. Half of Mexico’s children live in poverty. World Vision released a report showing 36% of Mexican children are malnourished. Currently, 1.5 million children suffer from chronic malnutrition in Mexico; while two million children under five are anemic. Anemia occurs when the body does not make enough red blood cells. Symptoms include fatigue, weakness, pale or yellowish skin, irregular heartbeats, shortness of breath, dizziness or lightheadedness, chest pain and headache.

Protein-energy malnutrition, (PEM) causes stunting, slowing of linear growth. Behavioral changes occur such as irritability, apathy, decreased social responsiveness, anxiety, and attention deficits that lead to problems in school. Unfortunately, the early childhood effects of malnutrition, once they are expressed, are irreversible.

Clinical signs and symptoms of micronutrient deficiencies include the following.

  • Iron — Fatigue, anemia, decreased cognitive function, headache, glossitis, and nail changes.
  • Iodine — Goiter, developmental delay, and mental retardation.
  • Vitamin D — Poor growth, rickets, and hypocalcemia.
  • Vitamin A — Night blindness, xerophthalmia, poor growth, and hair changes.
  • Folate — Glossitis, anemia, (megaloblastic), and neural tube defects (in fetuses of women without folate supplementation).
  • Zinc — Anemia, dwarfism, hepatosplenomegaly, hyperpigmentation and hypogonadism, acrodermatitis enteropathica, diminished immune response and poor wound healing.

A single microfarm can provide these critical nutrients for several families or for an entire community. Local microfarms can eliminate malnutrition.

Pregnant mothers who get insufficient nutrients from their diet, especially folic acid, often deliver low birthweight babies, many of whom become stunted and intellectually challenged. The primary nutrient deficiency in pregnant mothers that lead to labor death and low birth weight babies are iron Deficiency Anemia, Vitamin A and Iodine deficiency. A local microfarm can provide sufficient nutrients to support healthy mothers and their babies.

Global warming amplifies water shortages, which are addressed with deeper wells. Experience shows that deeper wells tend to increase levels of heavy metal poisons including especially iron, lead, mercury and arsenic. Eating algae foods allows the body to bioabsorb the tiny algae cells that chelate with heavy metals that are then passed out of the body in the urine. In regions plagued with heavy metals in drinking water, the ability of spirulina to detox heavy metal poisoning can save children, adults and the elderly.

Pesticide pollution imposes terrible illnesses on pregnant mothers, fetuses and young children. Recent research shows a connection between pesticide exposure by pregnant mothers and autism spectrum disorders in children. Pesticides cause short-term impacts such as headaches and nausea to chronic impacts like cancer, reproductive harm, and endocrine disruption. People exposed to these poisons in crop fields, in nearby towns and even pesticide residuals on produce may experience acute dangers such as nerve, skin, and eye irritation and damage, headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and systemic poisoning.

Only about 1% of agricultural poisons are absorbed by the pest targets. Some of the remainder escapes into the field and pollutes local communities. Substantial residuals may remain on produce even after washing. Microfarms produce high-quality food without pesticide. Additional research suggests that spirulina eaten normally can chelate with the poison molecules, similar to their attachment to heavy metals, and flush the poisons from the body.

A FAO review of spirulina as food for humans and domestic animals details the appropriateness of spirulina as a nutritional supplement in humanitarian emergencies. In addition to the health issues addressed above, microfarms producing spirulina offer additional health benefits.

  • Immune support — spirulina increases production of antibodies, infection-fighting proteins, and other cells that improve immunity and help ward off infection and chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer.
  • Protein supplement — amino acids make up 62% of spirulina. Because it is a rich source of protein and other nutrients, spirulina has been used as a nutritional supplement.
  • Allergic Reactions — studies suggest that spirulina may protect against allergic reactions by stopping the release of histamines, substances that contribute to allergy symptoms, such as runny nose, watery eyes, hives and soft-tissue swelling.
  • Antibiotic-related Illnesses — Although antibiotics destroy unwanted organisms in the body, they may also kill “good” bacteria, called probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus. This can cause diarrhea. In test tubes, spirulina has boosted the growth of acidophilus and other probiotics.
  • Infection — Studies suggest that spirulina has activity against herpes, influenza, and HIV. Several recent publications reported that HIV/AIDS patients recovered faster with spirulina than did controls.
  • Oral cancer — in a placebo-controlled study, taking spirulina seemed to reduce a precancerous lesion known as leukoplasia in people who chewed tobacco. Lesions were more likely to go away in the spirulina group than in the placebo group.
  • Liver disorders — Preliminary evidence suggests that spirulina may help protect against liver damage and cirrhosis (liver failure) in people with chronic hepatitis.
  • Eye Diseases — Spirulina contains a high concentration of zeaxanthin, an important nutrient linked to eye health. Spirulina may help reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

Additional research is needed to validate the multiple ways spirulina nutrients support human and animal health.

Health benefits summary

The Green Friendship Bridge project leverages the substantial nutrition package delivered by spirulina to eliminate childhood, (and adult) malnutrition. In addition, local microfarms can support the nutrition of pregnant mothers and eliminate low birthweight babies due to maternal malnutrition.

Local spirulina production can treat children and adults with heavy metals poisoning safely with the algae foods in their diet. Recent research suggests that spirulina may have the ability also to chelate with pesticide poisons and flush them from the body. This will enable thousands to live normal lives without the considerable health drag from brain and body poisoning. Microfarm production requires no pesticides or agricultural poisons, so no new poisons are inflicted on the local community.

Additional research will surely discover new avenues where spirulina and other algae species provide sound solutions to health challenges. The good news is that locally grown spirulina offers superior nutrition with a great constellation of health advantages at a low cost – safely.

We need to begin building microfarms NOW!