Retired botany professor shows way on green superfood

[India] A 77-year-old retired botany professor visits Burthal village, 35km from Jaipur, on Sundays to monitor women working at a pond to grow a green alga – a non-flowering plant of a large assemblage that grows in water.

Pushpa Srivastava started a project – to grow spirulina, one of the most nutrient-rich foods – in 1999 with funds from the biotechnology department. The project was over in four years, but the botanist did not stop at that.

She formed Manjul Spirulina Samwardhan Sansthan, a society of which she is the president, and women of Burthal are its secretary, treasurer and members.

Srivastava, who taught botany at the University of Rajasthan and retired in 2001, comes to Burthal to oversee alga cultivation.

Some women stir the pond with iron devices, others collect the alga and wash it before the plant is dried into flakes and ground into powder.

The pond produces 20kg of spirulina, of which a major chunk is sold in powder form; its papad, namkin, biscuits and capsules (250mg and 500mg) are supplied to fixed customers.

Srivastava, who has written chapters in botany books on the role of spirulina in fighting malnutrition, anaemia and some diseases, said Rajasthan is suitable for growing the alga, which is in demand by pharmaceutical companies for food supplements and medicines.

Spirulina needs bright sunlight and temperature ranging from 20 degree to 36 degree Celsius to grow in artificial ponds.

Pushpa Srivastava , owner of the spirulina farm in Bhurtal. (Prabhakar Sharma/HT Photo)

Spirulina is priced in India between ₹700 and ₹1500 per kilogram; in international market, it fetches approximately ₹6000-7000 per kg. “In India, the alga is grown in southern parts; I am the only one who is growing spirulina in Rajasthan, as of now,” Srivastava claimed.

“I want people to grow the alga but in 17 years, no one came forward to learn it,” she said.

“I work with 14 village women and pay them every moth ₹1000 each, but even they have not shown any interest in taking up spirulina cultivation,” the professor said.

She has shown with research that spirulina has 49 major nutrients and can be used to treat diseases, such as diabetes and arthritis.

“Taking one gram of spirulina is equivalent to eating one kg of fruits and vegetables,” she said, underlining the alga’s nutritional value. “But it should be taken only after consulting a doctor.”

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