Moringa is a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree with incredibly nutritious leaves that could aid poor, arid nations in fighting food insecurity and undernourishment.
According to Sonia Marais of Moringa South Africa, moringa is the sole genus in the flowering plant family Moringaceae. It contains 13 species that grow in tropical and subtropical climates, which range in size from tiny herbs to massive trees. The most widely cultivated species is Moringa oleifera, a multi-purpose tree native to the foothills of the Himalayas in northwestern India, and cultivated throughout the tropics. M. stenopetala, an African species, is also widely grown, but to a much lesser extent than M. oleifera.
Marais says: “Moringa oleifera silviculture is being promoted as a means to combat poverty and malnutrition. It grows quickly in many types of environments, and much of the plant is edible. The leaves contain all essential amino acids and are rich in protein, vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, and minerals. They are often called ‘super food’ because scientists have found that they contain the calcium equivalent of four glasses of milk, the vitamin C content of seven oranges, the potassium of three bananas, three times the amount of iron found in spinach, four times the amount of vitamin A found in a carrot, and twice the amount of protein in milk.”
Pilot nutrition project
In Tooseng village in South Africa’s Limpopo province, a 15-hectare plantation of Moringa has made a positive change to the individuals there. Mavis Mathabatha, a former school teacher in the village, has set up a Moringa farm that will produce enough leaves to make a dramatic difference in South Africa and further afield. In 2009, Mathabatha started harvesting, drying and grinding Moringa leaves from the first few trees she had planted. She sprinkled the crushed leaves on meals provided to about 400 poor children at the local Sedikong sa Lerato (meaning “Circle of Love” in Sesotho) drop-in centre.
“The results were visible almost immediately. The health of the children improved in a short period of time,” says Elizabeth Serogole, the drop-in centre’s manager, who works closely with Mathabatha. She says many children had been showing signs of malnutrition, like open sores on their skins, which started to heal soon after regularly eating one teaspoon of leaf powder a day. “Supplementing their meals with Moringa also notably increased children’s ability to ward off new illness and infection and boosted their mental development, as most can now concentrate better at school.”
Mathabatha’s farm produces and packages up to 10,000 tons a year of Moringa leaf powder, which is distributed within South Africa and exported to Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho. “I am hoping to further extend my market in the next few years. There is a lot of interest in my product,” she says.
“Planting and distributing Moringa is a holistic approach to deal with the problem of food insecurity,” says Ashley Green-Thompson, who managed Mathabatha’s project grant. “The level of household food insecurity is one of the key indicators of poverty, and it’s very high in Limpopo.”
Variety of benefits
Dr Samson Tesfay, a post doctoral scholar at the South African University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Horticultural Science Department, confirms that Moringa is truly a multi-purpose wonder. “The Moringa plant is unique in that every part can be utilised for beneficial purposes. It has medicinal, therapeutic, nutritive, and practical uses. It is extremely effective in combating malnutrition,” Tesfay states.
• Nutritional value. “In addition, the leaves, stems, and seed pods (full of essential amino acids) of the tree can be prepared in a variety of different ways, in order to provide solid nutritional value.
– The seed pods. Also known as a drumstick, the green seed pods are typically prepared in much the same way as green beans, and have a characteristically asparagus-like flavour. The seeds themselves can be roasted or boiled, while the roots are used toprepare a horseradish-like condiment or sauce. When pressed, the seeds produce edible oil that can be used for preparing food.
– The leaves. Especially nutritious, these can be eaten raw or served as a boiled greens dish that resembles spinach. The dried powder can be stirred into soups or sauces as a thickening agent or used to brew a healthful drink. Moringa leaves can also be used for medicinal purposes, to treat skin infections, lower blood pressure and blood sugar, reduce swelling, heal gastric ulcers and to calm the nervous system.”
• Water purifier. Tesfay further explains that the seeds of the tree can be used to purify water in rural areas where access to clean drinking water is difficult and is often a cause of disease.
“The seeds are effective in removing about 98% of impurities and microbes from contaminated water,” he states. Researchers at Leicester University in the UK have found that mixing crushed moringa seeds with polluted water helps settle silt and other contaminants. This is highly cost effective because the seeds can replace expensive imported material usually used for water purification in rural areas. The seed-filtered water still needs a final filtration before it is completely drinkable, but the seeds make the process easier and help other water filters to last longer.
• Agricultural uses. Moringa trees are also used in agroforestry and mixed cropping because the shade provided can protect other crops from the sun. While smoke from household fires can pollute the air, the soft, spongy moringa wood burns cleanly with little smoke or smell, making it a healthier source of fuel,” he concludes.
Moringa can be grown all over Africa from Tanzania downwards. In South Africa the most suitable provinces are Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo. – Melissa Jane Cook
Moringa South Africa, contact Sonia Marais: firstname.lastname@example.org