“He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.” Psalm 1:3
Throughout Mahadaga, many families rely on a diet of white rice or tho, a flour-based staple, served with vegetable sauce. While the sauce provides nutrients, the rice and tho are of less nutritional value, losing much of their substance in post-harvesting production.
One way to foster a more balanced nutritional intake is to integrate whole grain rice into the diet. However, widespread adoption of this method by producers and consumers is unlikely to be sustained at this point, as brown rice is not yet popular in Mahadaga. While this is something to work towards in the long run, it does not provide a short-term solution.
Another approach is to work from the basis of what is already in place. What if, instead of changing the staple diet, we could radically transform it by the addition of a single ingredient? And what if that ingredient could be locally sourced and universally available?
Enter the Moringa tree. Known as Moringa oleifera by scientists, Drumstick Tree by Indians, Benzolive Tree by Haitians, and “Mother’s best friend” by mothers in the Philipines, this single tree has been known to boost the health of entire communities. At ODD, we want Mahadaga to be one of them.
In our experimentation field maintained by the agricultural students, we have two plots devoted solely to the propagation and harvesting of moringa. The trees are seeded in our greenhouse and eventually transplanted to the fields, where they grow rapidly. Left on their own, moringa trees have been known to reach up to 4 m (15 ft) in a year. Before they grow this high, we prune them into shrub form and harvest the leaves in continual cycles. This intensive cultivation transforms our moringa into a “perennial-vegetable,” producing year-round, high quantity leaf yields. Once dried and crushed, the leaf powder is sold to the community as an affordable dietary supplement.
Especially rich in Calcium and Vitamin A, moringa powder can be added to food or beverages to boost nutritional value. Because the leaves’ nutrient content decreases with heat, all meals should be cooked prior to addition of the powder. The following table from ECHO Global Farms shows the value of moringa powder based on FAO/WHO’s Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA):
Moringa powder is made by drying leaves in a dark environment, crushing them into powder, and sifting the final product to eliminate remaining stems. Surplus powder can be stored, as long as containers are airtight, dark, dry, and kept below 24°C (75 °F). One hardship of producing powder year-round is that our dry storage areas, such as screened-in porches, often reach maximum capacity before all leaves have been dried. Thus, during rainy season, we have had to cease production despite having an abundance of leaves ready for harvest.
Since beginning production this year, we have sold about five kilos of moringa powder each month. We hope to continue refining our process and providing more powder in the months to come. Feedback from customers has been positive, and we are pleased with how well the trees are producing.
Note: The source of much information in this article is a technical note by ECHO Global Farms. To learn more about ECHO, click here.