Responding to Famine in the Horn of Africa with the
Tana River Spirulina Project
In the summer of 2011, the UN identified severe drought in the Horn of Africa. Affected countries in this East African region include Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan. Considered the worst in 60 years, the drought caused a severe food crisis across the region, affecting close to 10 million people.
Amurtel held an emergency meeting to explore ways we could help and sent a team to Kenya to research options within our capacity. After visiting refugee camps, talking with other NGOs and doing a needs assessment, it was decided to grow Spirulina and distribute it to the most vulnerable children. Spirulina is a super- green algae grown in fresh water ponds. It is an extremely rich source of protein and contains B1, B2, B3, zinc, magnesium, potassium, manganese and calcium. It contains amino acids—almost all the ones we need; one teaspoon has the nutritional value of several servings of common vegetables and provides a strong overall boost to the immune system.
Spirulina was declared the best food of the future by the United Nations World Food Conference of 1974, who, along with the World Health Organization, encourages Spirulina for children with malnutrition.
Spirulina is a good solution to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger because it is:
Affordable: many feeding solutions are more costly and less sustainable.
Effective: one gram per day is enough to correct severe malnutrition in a child in a few weeks. New studies suggest that Spirulina improves not only a child’s physical development but also cognitive performance.
Empowering women: Spirulina cultivation is a job women living in a rural area can easily do.
A local business: Spirulina production can be organized as a decentralized rural industry and can involve local people. It is thus a sustainable long-term solution.
Two months after our first meeting, construction began on our Spirulina farm in Wote, Makueni, about 3 hours outside of Nairobi. Working in partnership with Abha Light Foundation (ALF), Amurtel created three ponds for growing Spirulina, with the finished product given to children and pregnant and nursing mothers facing malnutrition.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2017, when the UN announced that drought and famine are again ravaging this part of the world. The lack of rainfall has caused herds to die, crops to fail, and prices of what food there is to skyrocket: now millions of families are facing starvation. The number of people in crisis now stands at more than 12 million, and is expected to increase. Recent reports show nearly 40 percent of Kenyan children are experiencing stunted growth as a result of malnutrition.
In mid-March, Amurtel members from the US and Ireland met with staff from ALF in Nairobi, exploring ways to increase our response to this overwhelming disaster.
During our meeting, we received a direct appeal from a community in Tana River County, northeast Kenya, requesting assistance for the many people facing severe water shortages and subsequent hunger. ALF worked in this area three years ago and the community leaders became familiar with our style of grass-roots aid, appreciating the Spirulina distribution during the Free Children’s Clinics (FCC).
After talking with those familiar with the situation in Tana River, the team decided to double the production of Spirulina and distribute it to vulnerable children and mothers experiencing extreme malnutrition in this region. As lives were literally at stake, we started immediately, and are now distributing Spirulina nutritional food to almost 200 families. Once more funds are raised and the additional Spirulina ponds built, we will be able to increase the number of families receiving Spirulina.
It is frustrating and painful to see how many we are not able to help, how many are experiencing the brutal and dehumanizing effects of hunger. Yet seeing the hope on the faces of those we can help, seeing the data showing what a difference even a teaspoon of Spirulina a day can make for a child’s development, reminds us of that adage: ‘it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.’
“For WHO, Spirulina represents an interesting food for multiple reasons, rich in iron and protein, and is able to be administered to children without any risk. We at WHO consider it a very suitable food.”
–United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva, Switzerland June 8, 1993.
If you wishto help us reach more families facing hunger, you can make a donation at amurtel.org; note that the donation is for Kenya. This is a daunting challenge, but your support will inspire and support our teams at Amurtel to do what we can to meet it.
Here is a pdf with more info:AbhaPP2