Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Miracle Algae

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Miracle Algae

Article excerpt

BARKADROUSSO is a little country town in the Kanem region of west central Chad. Its population is about 800, mostly women. The Kanem region used to be good cattle country, but drought has decimated the herds and made life very difficult. All the able-bodied men have gone, leaving behind the women, children and the elderly. Achta is one of these women. Aged about forty, she lives alone with her six children. Seven years ago her husband left to work in Libya, like so many other men. It is five years since he last came back. "God be with him," she murmurs, "we're still alive, thanks, be to God and the dihe."

The dihe is the only form of wealth that the women of Barkadrousso possess. It is a blue alga, invisible to the naked eye, that grows in profusion in the natron-rich ponds of certain wadis. Very high in protein content--15 grams are the equivalent of 100 grams of meat--in mineral salts and vitamins, it is the staple food of the local population, cooked as a thick soup or made into a sauce.

On the day of the harvest, a hundred or so women gather around the pond with their containers. Many have their daughters with them. When the signal is given, they collect as much dihe as they can. Half of them have come more than fifty kilometres to Barkadrousso for the purpose.

At one time, most of the streams in the Kanem produced dihe, which the women sold, dried, at the market in Mao, seventy kilometers away. …

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