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Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge MOST/NUFFIC (IK-Unit)
SENEGAL BP-II.10

Title

Improving nutrition with Moringa ‘miracle’ trees in Senegal

 

Themes

Dried food, food security, health, malnutrition

 

Introducing the practice

The Moringa oleifera tree can be found throughout the world in the tropics and sub-tropics. Its edible fruit and leaves are a feature of diets in India, the Philippines, Senegal, Niger, Ethiopia and many other countries. Seed kernels of the tree possess natural flocculents and are used by people in the Sudan to purify the turbid waters of the Nile. In India, tradition maintains that the Moringa tree can cure 300 diseases, and local herbalists make extensive use of Moringa products to treat a host of ailments, including diabetes, ulcers, high blood pressure, pedal edema and kidney pains.

Church World Service (CWS) initiated a programme in Senegal which has demonstrated that the highly nutritious leaves of the plant are very effective at helping prevent malnutrition. The pilot phase began in June, 1997. AGADA (Agir Autrement pour le Développement en Afrique, or Alternative Action for African Development) is the local partner.

The Moringa tree is cultivated throughout Senegal, commonly seen grown as a living fence around compounds in villages. Leaves are periodically harvested to make a sauce, locally known under the Wolof name mboum. Elsewhere, researchers have known for years that these leaves represent probably the best tropical vegetable in terms of nutritional content. Laboratory analysis of fresh and dried leaves have shown that they are a very rich source of vitamins A, C, B-complex and E, as well as iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium and selenium. The leaves also contain all of the essential amino acids, rare among legumes. However, traditional cooking methods, in which the leaves are boiled up to three times and the water discarded after each boiling, result in the loss of much of the nutritional content. The CWS-AGADA project introduced the concept of drying the leaves into powder form, in such a way that most of the nutrition is retained in a more concentrated form, and using this powder as a nutritional food additive (mixed in with the daily rice, sauce or infant formula). Collaborating health posts claim that this approach is very effective in helping to treat moderately malnourished infants.

The practice is now in wide use by health workers and individuals throughout the Casamance region of southern Senegal. After the results of the pilot project confirmed Moringa’s efficacy in helping to prevent malnutrition, the project continued the training of health workers, NGOs and women’s associations within the region. Thousands of new trees have been planted.

Consumption and use of the tree for various purposes is indigenous to many countries. CWS learned of the leaves’ nutritional value from a development newsletter published by ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization), which is located in North Ft. Myers, Florida.

 

Contents and approach

The purpose of the project is to teach local people the value of Moringa as a local, sustainable and inexpensive tool for maintaining good nutrition for the family. The project targets women and infants. Health workers are trained in preparing and using the powder. They are encouraged to conduct Moringa training seminars among the women who come to their clinics or live nearby. Pregnant women are encouraged to start adding Moringa leaf powder to their daily food early on in their pregnancy, and to continue taking it during lactation. Moringa is recommended as an additive to the food of babies six months or older who are being weaned.

Method

With support and cooperation from local health authorities, AGADA trainers schedule a series of seminars within a given region to teach the techniques to all the doctors, nurses and midwives working in that region. Additional seminars are scheduled for women’s groups, village self-help associations and NGOs. A training film, booklets, brochures, posters and a newsletter have been produced as teaching and reinforcing aids.

 

The role of indigenous knowledge

The fact that Moringa was already well-known as a source of food and medicine by everyone in Senegal has made this message easy to get across. Senegalese generally respond enthusiastically to the information about ‘their tree.’ The information about Moringa’s value is seen as an affirmation of what local people and herbalists have long known or suspected. Techniques of using and preparing Moringa are based on traditional practice.

Dissemination of information

Moringa was already known by everyone in Senegal, albeit under the local names nebedaye and sap-sap. The older generations know and have used the tree more frequently than the young, and mboum is frequently referred to as ‘the sauce my grandmother used to prepare.’ Now, within the original project area, the information on Moringa’s nutritional value is spreading spontaneously. Already this knowledge is very widespread throughout southern Senegal. Many health workers, NGOs and community workers have become regular Moringa users and trainers. Local radio is often used to transmit information. There is even an amateur acting group which regularly presents skits about Moringa.

 

Achievements

Using Moringa to combat malnutrition, both by providing enriched food and by treating drinking water (Moringa flocculents can remove up to 99% of the bacteria in water within one hour of treatment), is an approach which supports indigenous knowledge with laboratory research. The Department of Engineering at Leicester University has extensively studied Moringa’s flocculent properties and once implemented a pilot project in Malawi which used Moringa seed kernels to purify water in a community water-treatment plant.

Moringa trees can be found growing throughout the tropics and sub-tropics. Where they are not already common, they can be quickly introduced: grown from seeds or cuttings, the tree can reach a height of five meters and produce its first fruit within eight months. Trees are very drought-resistant and tolerate a wide variety of soil types. Once established, a tree can be cut back to ground level and will still grow back. Leaves can also be produced intensively within small backyard or rooftop gardens. Everyone can thus have easy, cost-free access to the product.

Strengths and weaknesses of the practice

A strength of Moringa is that it is a non-toxic, easily digestible source of nutrition which also has many beneficial effects on health in general. Recently, very extensive health and safety studies conducted at the Nogutchi Memorial Medical Research Centre in Ghana determined that Moringa leaf powder has no toxic elements. In this study laboratory mice, rats and rabbits were fed a diet which included up to 15 times the recommended daily dosage of Moringa leaf powder (i.e., the equivalent of a child consuming 375 grams of leaf powder daily). Absolutely no adverse side effects from even the most concentrated Moringa diet were observed.

A study will shortly be underway in Ghana to test Moringa’s efficacy in HIV/AIDS nutritional therapy. Intensive cultivation of the tree could eventually introduce new cash crops for third-world farmers, as there is a growing demand overseas for the leaf powder and for the edible oil which can be extracted from its seeds. Farmers in India already produce Moringa pods, fresh and in tins, for both local and international markets. Moringa leaves are also a good food for livestock. The wood pulp can be used to make high-quality paper.

There is work to be done in developing international markets for Moringa products, establishing marketing networks, and encouraging its cultivation among third-world farmers. An international conference on Moringa’s potential addressed these and other issues between 30 October and 2 November 2001 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The conference brought together over 100 people from 27 countries: researchers, health workers and representatives of NGOs and industries. The conference was co-sponsored by Church World Service (CWS), by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), and by the Centre for Industrial Development (CID). Propage and Asiafco coordinated the organization of the conference. Optima of Africa, a company which produces Moringa seed oil in Tanzania, helped host the meetings. Conference outputs included the creation of working groups to continue research into various uses of Moringa. Propage is currently developing a Moringa website.

 

Source of inspiration

It would be rather easy to transfer the practice of using Moringa for improving household nutrition, although some adaptations might be necessary. Use of Moringa leaves as a food may be more difficult to introduce in a society where tree leaves are not already used in preparing sauces.

In order to determine how Moringa leaves can be cultivated intensively, in 2001 CWS developed a 1 ha plot in northern Senegal with Moringa seeded at a spacing of ten centimeters and irrigated with drip lines. In this system, pioneered by the Biomasa research institute in Nicaragua, the Moringa leaves are harvested by cutting back the trees when they reach a height of one meter. The stumps rapidly put out new growth, permitting a second harvest eight weeks later. The CWS plot has been continuously productive for 12 months with an output of about 20 tons of dried leaf powder annually.

Thanks to publicity and the CWS publications, Moringa nutrition programmes based on the CWS-AGADA approach have been initiated in more than 25 other countries worldwide. New Moringa research projects are underway. These include livestock feeding trials at the International Trypanotolerance Centre in Gambia.

If you think that this case could be useful in a different context than the one described here, please get in touch first with the contact person listed below (Administrative data). Intellectual property rights could be an issue.

 

Additional remarks and information

A special acknowledgment is owed to Mr Martin Price, director of the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization and editor of ECHO Development Notes. The many articles about Moringa published in this agricultural newsletter were the original inspiration for the CWS/AGADA project, and ECHO continues to be a very responsive and encouraging partner.

Features about Moringa and the CWS/AGADA project have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, in the International Herald Tribune, and in many other (mainly American) newspapers. CWS published a booklet on the tree in both English and French; the English version can be seen at: www.moringatrees.org

A new version of the book, in both English and French, can be obtained by writing to CTA, P.O. Box 380, 6700 AJ Wageningen, The Netherlands. It is entitled ‘The Miracle Tree’ in English, ‘L’Arbre de la Vie’ in French. The CWS/AGADA project was featured as a documentary on The Discovery Health Channel and as a feature story on National Public Radio in the USA. CWS and AGADA have also prepared a training film showing case studies, posters, brochures and other training/demonstration tools.

Recommended for further reading:

·           Mark Olson’s Ph.D. research on the Morigaceae family of plants. His research is described in the CWS/CTA publication in the chapter ‘Introduction to the Moringa Family’, and at the website : www.mobot.org/gradstudents/olson/mohome.html

·           Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization’s (ECHO) resources on Moringa; see ECHO’s website at www.echonet.org

·           Moringa oleifera: A perfect tree for home gardens http://agrss.sherman.hawaii.edu/onfarm/tree/tree0012.html

 

Administrative data

Organization involved

Church World Service (Mr Lowell J. Fuglie)

B.P. 5338, Dakar-Fann, Senegal

Tel.: +221 86 41204

Fax: +221 86 11411

E-mail: fuglie@telecomplus.sn

Website: www.moringatrees.org

 

Contact person

Mr Martin Mane

E-mail: agada@sudinfo.sn

Address: AGADA, B.P. 1000, Ziguinchor, Senegal

Tel.: +221 6433342

 

Funding

The total budget for the period June 1997 to December 2001 was equivalent to USD 450,000. The funds have been provided by the Church World Service. Future projects currently under consideration include a study to measure Moringa’s efficacy as a weaning food supplement through an intervention targeting communities in the Gambia.

 

Person(s) who have described this Best Practice

Mr Lowell J. Fuglie (see address above), based on the publications of:

Mr Martin Price

Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO)

Tel.: +1 941 5433246

E-mail: mprice@echonet.org

 


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