Lowell Fuglie with Church World Service (CWS) in Senegal sent us a report on a recent CWS project called Moringa oleifera: Natural Nutrition for the Tropics. ECHO and others have published articles about the many uses, nutritional content and hardiness of this drought-resistant “vegetable tree.” This report contains valuable technical information and adds an important human face by reporting results of an evaluation of the project and interviews with people who have benefited from it.
A Fresh Look at Nutrition and Moringa
People have different nutritional requirements at different stages of their lives. Lactating women and weaned children ages 1-3 are especially vulnerable in areas where malnutrition is commonplace. This report lists the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for the major nutrients for children ages 1-3 and for lactating women and compares this to the amount of these nutrients present in moringa pods, moringa leaves and moringa leaf powder.
Here are highlights from several tables. “For a child aged 1-3, a 100 g serving of fresh cooked leaves would provide all his daily requirements of calcium, about 75% of his iron and half his protein needs, as well as important amounts of potassium, B vitamins, copper and all the essential amino acids. As little as 20 grams of leaves would provide a child with all the vitamins A and C he needs.”
“For pregnant and breast-feeding women, moringa leaves and pods can do much to preserve the mother’s health and pass on strength to the fetus or nursing child. One 100 g portion of leaves could provide a woman with over a third of her daily need of calcium and give her important quantities of iron, protein, copper, sulfur and B-vitamins.”
Moringa leaves can be easily dried (in the shade to reduce loss of vitamins) and rubbed over a wire screen to make a powder, which can be stored and conveniently added to soups, sauces, etc. “It is estimated that only 20-40% of vitamin A will be retained if leaves are dried under direct sunlight, but that 50-70% will be retained if leaves are dried in the shade.” “One rounded tablespoon (8g) of leaf powder will satisfy about 14% of the protein, 40% of the calcium, 23% of the iron and nearly all the vitamin A needs for a child aged 1-3. Six rounded spoonfuls of leaf powder will satisfy nearly all of a woman’s daily iron and calcium needs during pregnancy and breast-feeding.”
During pregnancy and breast-feeding, women are most at risk of suffering from nutritional deficiencies. The table shows the percent of the RDA of various nutrients for a nursing mother eating six rounded tablespoons (about 50 g) of leaf powder daily. It also shows the percent of the RDA for a 1-3 year old child with one rounded tablespoon of powder added to its food, three times daily.
How the Program Operated
Lowell says he first became aware of the nutritional value of moringa from reading EDN. He did not need to order seeds from our seedbank, however, because moringa already grew wild in Senegal. It was seldom eaten, and much of the nutritional content was lost when it was prepared due to the common practice of boiling the leaves then discarding the water, as many as three times.
The project began in early 1997. CWS partnered with a local NGO, Alternative Action for African Development (AGADA). Together they trained a network of government health workers (doctors, nurses, midwives) in ways of using moringa. Informational booklets, brochures, a seminar and radio spots were put together.
An outside evaluation of the project was conducted in December 1998. They interviewed 70 individuals. Answers to the questions posed follow, based on their report.
Would moringa leaves, leaf powder and pods be effective in treating malnutrition and promoting physical health and well being? “Successful treatment of malnourished children has been well-documented. Interviews with men and women who have made moringa a regular part of their diets point out that they have a keen awareness of improvements in their health and energy. At one health post, the pharmacy is now selling moringa leaf powder to mothers with malnourished children (US 5 cents per sachet). ”
There is limited awareness of nutrition and the importance of balanced diets. Would people see the value of adding moringa to their foods as a purely nutritional measure? “It is apparent that one does not need an education in nutrition to know whether or not one is feeling healthy. People expressed every intention of continuing to include moringa in their diets because of the sense of physical well-being it gives them. In one village virtually every household now maintains a stock of moringa leaf powder.”
Would people be receptive to changing the way they prepared fresh moringa leaves? “Traditionally leaves are boiled 2-3 times and the water discarded after each boiling to remove some of the bitter taste. However, some individuals claim they are no longer discarding the water or boiling the leaves more than once. In addition, making sauces with leaf powder instead of fresh leaves appears to be quite popular because it saves time and is easy to use.”
Would they be receptive to adding new foods, such as moringa pods, to their diets? “This has been surprisingly successful, since new foods are often very difficult to introduce in West Africa. People interviewed have shown considerable inventiveness when it comes to preparing moringa pods, seeds and flowers.”
Would local consumption remain dependent on outside encouragement and training, or could it develop spontaneously? “Partly thanks to radio broadcasts about moringa, partly through training provided local communities by some of the more dynamic health agents, and partly through word-of-mouth and example, moringa and its properties are gradually becoming known even outside the project’s target area. The project directly sponsored planting 10,000 trees in 1998, but it is likely that a similar number were planted by individuals within the region.”
As I read through excerpts from interviews I selected a few to share here. The supervisor of the primary health department at a hospital said, “We have always had problems with the classical approach to treating malnourished children. This was based on industrial products: whole milk powder, vegetable oil and sugar. All these things are expensive. When you tell a parent to go out and buy them—this can be truly costly for them.”
A nurse in charge of pediatrics at a hospital keeps dried leaf powder on hand to give out to mothers of malnourished children.
An administrator at another general hospital is a diabetic. “I have for the past three years been controlling my blood sugar by periodically drinking a tea made from moringa leaves.” He decided to plant a thousand trees around the hospital complex. “This way we will always have a ready supply of leaves to treat the cases of malnutrition we receive.” [Editor: We know nothing about the value of moringa tea for diabetes. Have others heard of this?]
One of the mothers said, “At first, when I tried to nurse my son, I was not producing enough milk. Then I started to eat moringa. After a short while I had enough milk again. We now eat moringa sauces at least three times a week. Every other time I had a baby, I lost weight during the months I was breast-feeding. This time I have been gaining weight.”
Many adults mentioned that they were no longer so tired. Some mentioned that they and their children sleep better. One said that “After we boil the pods, we distribute the water and drink it. It tastes sugary.” There were some accounts of children vomiting worms the first time they were fed moringa.
This 68-page book also contains many recipes. There are many pictures of the people being interviewed, which might be helpful in proposing a similar project to local leaders in other countries.
Trial packets of moringa seed can be obtained from ECHO at no cost to our overseas network.
Fuglie, L. 1999. An Impressive Moringa Project in Senegal. ECHO Development Notes no. 64