Giving entrepreneurs in developing economies like Bangladesh the opportunity to boost their local economy by farming one of the world’s truly sustainable superfoods? It’s the ultimate people-planet-profit proposition. And thanks to one young scientist and his company EnerGaia it’s fast becoming a reality. Spirulina is now being grown everywhere from urban Singapore to the rural Indian village of Madurai (and has even been licensed in France). But it all started in another bustling Asian city…
Back in the 1970s, spirulina - a high-protein, bright green algae found in remote corners of the world - was hailed as the “super food of the future”. With three times the protein of a chicken breast but just a fraction of the carbon footprint…how could it not be?
Since then spirulina has been grown in laboratories; then in both natural and man-made lakes; and now…on the rooftops of Bangkok by former aerospace engineer Saumil Shah.
"What always fascinated me was the ability of spirulina to remove CO2 from our atmosphere and use it to grow very quickly. In fact spirulina can double its mass in two to four days," he says.
Hence the rooftops of Bangkok (including the roof of the famous Novotel in Siam Square) began doubling as a spirulina farm, with the plant grown in semi-transparent and interconnected plastic tubs that feed through to a centralized harvesting unit.
Which is why Saumil's company EnerGaia is today providing spirulina in fresh paste, powdered, and frozen formats - as well as a range of spirulina pastas and bottled fruit juices. Not that it’s been easy. “I began in 2009 and have been largely self-funded ever since.
“Sometimes I wonder if I'm throwing my savings away but then I see our products benefitting real people and realize it’s too late to stop now.”
- See EnerGaia's spirulina movie