The Moringa tree: an answer to world hunger?
The fast-growing deciduous tree is planted increasingly in the harsh climates of developing countries such as Madagascar for its nutritional properties and durability
Edvize Scanizany working with Moringa leaves. Photograph: Mary Boland
Edvize Scanizany sits on the floor pulling the tiny leaves off the branches of Moringa trees in a shed in Mangily, north of the city of Toliara in southwest Madagascar. Once the leaves are dried, Scanizany will grind them into a powder that will be used as a nutrition supplement in children’s meals in a charity soup kitchen and in several schools run by the non-governmental organisation Bel Avenir.
The Moringa, a fast-growing deciduous tree that originated in India, is planted increasingly in the harsh climates of developing countries for its nutritional properties and durability. “We stir it into jams or into food. Kids don’t like the taste of it – it’s kind of like spinach – so we need to conceal it in something tasty,” says the NGO’s Carmen Ramos Muñoz as she shows visitors around the organisation’s Moringa plantation.
The initiative is just one of Bel Avenir’s many educational, social, environmental and cultural projects and is aimed at teaching the local population about sustainable agriculture while searching for home-grown solutions to Madagascar’s food security crisis. Now in its fifth year, the Moringa plantation is located beside a hotel also run by the NGO – all profits go back into Bel Avenir activities – and is viewed as a possible viable alternative for Malagasy farmers where crops have been eaten by locusts.
“We had the locusts eat our Moringa leaves here last year,” says Ramos Muñoz, “but unlike other crops, the Moringa trees don’t have to be replanted. The insects ate the leaves but they don’t eat the trees themselves, so they grow again the next season.”
The tropical trees are sturdy, drought-resistant and need regular watering only for the first six months, she says. Posters around the plantation extol the virtues of the green “magic powder”: 1g contains four times more calcium than milk; seven times more vitamin C than oranges; four times more vitamin A than carrots; three times more potassium than bananas; three times more iron than spinach; and far more protein than in eggs.
“The people here know a lot about the vegetation around them – but they have never grown anything here. They have no tradition of farming,” says Ramos Muñoz. “This kind of sustainable crop could be introduced.”