In countries including Burkina Faso, MCC food projects are promoting the moringa tree.
Jacques Bayili picks his daily vitamins and minerals from a moringa tree.
The coin-sized leaves mix right into the peanut sauce his wife cooks with tomatoes and cabbage that they and their five children eat with rice or tô, a thick cornmeal mash common in Burkina Faso.
“It’s so good, you want to eat it until you explode.”
Moringa leaves add a punch of Vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium and iron to the dish, and moringa’s protein content rivals — some say exceeds — soybeans. According to Bayili, it tastes good too, especially when it’s made in a sauce.
“It’s so good, you want to eat it until you explode,” he says.
Tasty and exceptionally nutritious, the moringa tree is becoming an increasingly useful tool in MCC’s and partners’ plans that address malnutrition, especially in regions of Africa and Asia, where subsistence farmers struggle to produce enough food to feed their families.
Moringa, which is drought resistant and not picky about its soil or growing conditions, thrives in frost-free climates and typically produces leaves 10 months out of the year. Not only are the leaves nutritious, but the branches, seeds and their pods, and even the roots can be used for nutritional and medicinal purposes.
In countries where MCC is encouraging the use of moringa — Ethiopia, Kenya, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) and India, where the tree originated — moringa is best known for its medicinal uses. Teas and powders made from the leaves and seeds are traditional folk remedies for everything from high blood pressure and diabetes to stomach ailments and pain.
Teaching people to use the tree as a daily part of their diet, not just for medicine, is a challenge that MCC partners face as they encourage people to plant and propagate the tree. They typically use trainings and cooking demonstrations to show various dishes that can be prepared with moringa. In Lao PDR, where MCC has distributed some 600 seedlings, the training begins with children who plant moringa in school gardens.
Moringa’s medicinal value was all that Bayili knew about the tree until two years ago, when he attended a training by MCC partner Office of Development of Evangelical Churches (ODE). He was one of 42 farmers who were learning how to create moringa nurseries.
Since then, Bayili has grown 1,200 moringa seedlings that he sold to ODE for free distribution to other farmers in the Central Plateau region.
ODE paid Bayili and the other growers a reduced price for the seedlings because the organization provided the seeds. Nevertheless, Bayili says, he still earned about $60 each year, enough to pay school fees and buy supplies for his children.
With the assistance of all the growers, ODE gave away 17,015 seedlings to farmers who promised to build barriers to protect the seedlings from roving farm animals.
The major hurdle so far was a 2012 infestation of worms. ODE estimates that half of the trees the growers produced became fodder for worms. Today, Bayili and other producers have been trained in making natural pesticide from the fermented seeds and leaves of the neem tree, and Bayili says he does not worry about worms eating his current crop.
ODE relies on people like Bayili and his friend and fellow grower Joacin Bako, both in the town of Kordie, to spread the word about the value of moringa. Already in Kordie, about 90 percent of the villagers have a moringa tree, Bayili estimates.
Bayili says he anticipates a growing demand for the trees in his community as people understand its nutritional benefit, so much so that he is considering becoming a moringa producer.
Moringa has the potential to generate income for people, but the real benefit is in improved health, stresses Chad Warfel, who learned about moringa from ODE in his role as MCC representative in Burkina Faso, with his wife Isabelle. The Warfels completed their term in July 2013.
“Poor nutrition reduces the capacity of farmers to do physical labor and perpetuates the structural food insecurity in the region,” Warfel says. “Moringa is providing a culturally appropriate tool to support healthy living for farmers and their entire families.”
- Mix leaves into peanut sauce cooked with tomatoes and cabbage.
- MCC focus: Establish moringa nurseries to provide seedlings to farmers.
- Prepare leaves like a vegetable and eat with local bread; roots of trees help hold soil in place and control erosion.
- MCC focus: Gave out 10,853 moringa trees after nutrition trainings last August.
- Cook the pods for fiber; cook leaves alone or with lentils. In the future? Potential animal fodder.
- MCC focus: Promote nutritional value of tree, which is native to India.
- Put moringa powder in tea and porridge. Add ground moringa seeds to unclean water, which acts to pull the particles to the bottom, leaving cleaner, better-tasting water.
- MCC focus: Teach nutritional value of this common tree.
- Add moringa leaves to stew to be eaten with corn porridge, or put powder into the porridge.
- MCC focus: Promote the use of moringa to help boost immune systems of people living with HIV and AIDS.
- Add leaves to dried fish soup, meat salad or rice soup. Use the roots as horseradish.
- MCC focus: Teach about moringa through schools; distributed 600 trees last year.