U.S. Company Farming Duckweed In Uganda

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Written by Dana Sanchez

U.S. company Parabel has kicked off a $7 million agriculture project in Uganda to produce human and animal food from common duckweed, an aquatic plant that grows in abundance there.

The Parabel project involves growing, harvesting and processing locally available aquatic plants or micro-crops to create feed and food products, according to a report in All Africa.

The aquatic plants are described in the report as indigenous, non-genetically modified plants from the lemnaceae family, aka duckweed. They grow wild around freshwater streams, the report says.

The plant has been used in human and animal food for centuries, but has never been fully developed commercially with the efficiency and productivity associated with Parabel’s system, according to the All Africa report.

Gabriel Ajedra, Uganda’s minister for investments, promised government support for the venture at last week’s launch of the demonstration site.

Uganda will be the only African country with a demonstration site, said Tom Buringuriza, Parabel’s vice president for Africa. Commercial units will be replicated in other African countries, the report said.

The first phase of Parabel’s project in Uganda will involve growing the micro-crop in a demonstration facility outside Entebbe International Airport on government-owned land running parallel to the Entebbe runway, the report says.

This demonstration facility will represent what Uganda will do on a commercial scale. After it’s completed, the demonstration project will move to a 123-acre space to grow the crop and produce the end products – food – on a commercial basis. This will make Uganda the green protein food and animal feed base for Africa, according to the report in All Africa.

Duckweed can produce protein up to 50 times faster than soybeans, according to Paul Skillicorn, CEO of Biotechnology Research and Development, LLC. It produces better quality protein than soybeans, according to Skillicorn’s duckweed agriquatics blog.

Some advantages of duckweed, Skillicorn said, include: It can be fed municipal waste and wastewater; it floats on the surface and clarifies wastewater (an advantage over algae); it’s cheap to produce and easy to harvest.

There are disadvantages too, he said in his agriquatics blog. Duckweed doesn’t do well in salty conditions,  has a smaller species base therefore offers few end product options, is vulnerable to surface temperatures above 95 degrees fahrenheit and is less flexible than mixed algae species in dealing with pH swings.