The first time Professor Anne S. Meyer, DTU Chemical Engineering, set foot on the beaches of Ghana in West Africa, what she saw were mountains—not piles—of seaweed; mountains so big that they were actually a problem for the local fishermen, because the seaweed became entangled in their nets, threatening to ruin their livelihood.
However, with the application of the right knowledge and the right technology, these same mountains of seaweed have the potential to generate development and economic growth. The reason for this is that types of seaweed contain important nutrients that can be used in both the food and pharmaceutical industries.
“This huge opportunity is right there in front of the local population—particularly women and young people who don’t make their living from fishing—and we think they should make the most of it,” says Professor Anne S. Meyer.
DTU has now teamed up with a number of Ghanese researchers to start work on systematizing seaweed production and refinement in Ghana.
The project is sure to benefit industry, research and the local population, and residual products from the project can be used to brighten up the tough everyday conditions the poorest people in Ghana have to endure.
“Seaweed is a resource,” explains Anne S. Meyer, “in several other parts of the world, such as South-East Asia, seaweed is cultivated for the components that can be used as hydrocolloids in foods. And here, the raw material is lying around for us to collect.”
The next step is to identify the types of seaweed best suited to producing the hydrocolloids which are water-soluble biopolymers used as stabilizers and gelling or thickening agents in foods. It will then be a matter of finding suitable ways of cultivating the seaweed without damaging the ecosystem.
Finally, a local refinement system is to be set up, and it will then be a question of training and helping the local Ghanese population to become ‘seaweed farmers’.
The project, which is financed by Danida, has a budget of DKK 10 million. The funding is to cover a range of expenses, including paying for three PhD and three master’s students in Ghana, and for research activities at DTU Chemical Engineering.
For Anne S. Meyer, meeting and working with colleagues in Ghana has emphasized that Africa has much more to offer than many people think:
“We were amazed by the level of expertise we encountered in Ghana. The country has a highly educated academic class that is genuinely interested in helping to solve some of the problems Ghana is facing. And the people think it’s fun to get involved, so working with them has been an absolute delight. I must admit that I was surprised at how skilled and visionary they are,” she says.