A few years ago (August, 1999), David Kennedy from Leaf for Life shared some experiences with drying leaves in Latin America:
“Generally, Latin America doesn’t have as strong a tradition of eating leaf crops as Africa or Southeast Asia. This I think has slowed acceptance somewhat. Where there is a linked nutritional education program, leaf powder is better accepted.
“I greatly enjoyed Lowell Fuglie’s book about using moringa in Senegal. I think we dry the leaves faster with better ultraviolet protection and grind the dried leaves more finely. This probably results in a somewhat more nutritious and hygienic food, but it bears the additional cost of making the dryer. Materials are roughly $8-12 US in Mexico for a 1 meter square dryer. We have found local sources of 3-year, 6 mil ultraviolet-resistant greenhouse polyethylene in both Mexico and Brazil. In both cases it was more expensive than in the US, where it is $0.06 - 0.10 per square foot. Women seemed to very much like the idea of making and owning their own solar dryer. The pride of making the dryer helps them commit to using it.
“Where it has been used, there is pretty good acceptance of leaf powder and very good acceptance of some of the foods made from it (e.g. Churritos and dinosaur cookies). Some mothers simply put a spoonful of powder and a spoonful of sugar in a glass of water and have their kids chug it down.
“Drying leaves for food is a concept very easy to grasp for most Latin American women. They generally think that eating green vegetables is good for their family’s health and that the leaf powder offers an inexpensive way to serve more vegetables and have them better accepted by their children. The greens most commonly available in the markets (Swiss chard, cilantro, spinach and purslane) are not in good supply year round and quickly wilt without refrigeration. Drying leaves is a technique simple enough that people could conceivably adapt it directly from booklets or video without an expensive project in place; or it could be passed on from persons who had attended a project workshop.
“Many women were excited about being able to use weeds (mainly lambsquarters, amaranth, plantain, and dock) and about using some of the leaves from crops like chayote, beans, cassava and sweet potatoes. These both were seen as bonus food rather than just another way to prepare traditional greens. Several ‘curanderas’ or botanical healers have begun using the solar dryers, feeling that they may preserve more of the active principals in the herbs.
“We get similar undocumented reports from the women. Most frequent reports are fewer respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, clearer facial complexion, and more energy. These would be consistent with improved vitamin A and iron nutrition. We also get some backache improvement reports. I’ve wondered if the latter reports may possibly be related to kidneys and to an increased fluid intake associated with the program. I suspect a lot of it is a psychological response to increased attention from the projects.
“At this point I would say that there is genuine interest and few strong constraints to widespread acceptance (especially compared to the problems we have with leaf concentrate). The leaf powder project is still at a very early stage of development. One positive development is that our sister organization in Mexico (Hojas para la Vida – Mexico) has gotten its legal status and has received a grant from the Mexican government to train women in this leaf meal technique.”
More recently (June, 2001), David gave us an update:
“The projects initiated by us and Hojas para la Vida Mexico are mainly still running and a lot of dryers were still in use when I last visited the area in April. It is not catching on like wildfire but does seem to gradually take hold given a little support from Hoja para la Vida (Leaf for Life). Hoja para la Vida is struggling to get enough funding to extend its work effectively but is committed to the idea and in for the long term.”