Haiti hopes miracle moringa tree can help to combat malnutrition


Felix von Geyer

Rich in vitamins, potassium and calcium, Haiti is promoting the moringa tree to address the country's chronic malnutrition.

The poorest country in the western hemisphere, 75% of Haiti's population lives on less than $2 a day, half on less than $1 a day, according to the UN World Food Programme. It imports 80% of its rice and more than half of all its food, despite 60% of Haitians working in agriculture. An estimated 7 million of the 10 million population are food insecure and USAid estimates that up to 30% of children are chronically malnourished.

USAid continues to roll out its $88m five-year Feed the Future North project that looks to expand farmers' yields of primarily five key crops – corn, beans, rice, plantains and cocoa. Meanwhile, Haiti has rediscovered moringa oleifera, native to India but commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa, as the miracle crop under its very nose, after its forgotten introduction to the country a century ago.

Locally known as doliv or benzoliv, moringa oleifera is rich in vitamins A, B, C, D and E while containing minerals plus calcium, potassium and protein. The leaves can be eaten raw, sauteed with oil and garlic or added to rice and stews.

As Haiti continues its reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake and 2012 hurricanes, the moringa tree could also provide shade for coffee plantations, according to Michel Chancy, the secretary of state for animal production. Coffee provides the main source of income for more than 100,000 farmers while crucially sustaining much of the remaining tree cover – less than 1.5% of land – according to the Clinton Foundation, which is redeveloping the role of coffee in Haiti's economy.

Chancy says the government's moringa campaign has targeted 500 schools in recent months, including the use of nursery gardens to promote moringa's benefits and cultivation. A National Moringa Day was held on 5 June. The tree's nuts can be grilled and eaten like chocolate, while powdered moringa leaves are given to people with HIV and Aids, says Chancy.

In Senegal and Mali, moringa is used to combat rickets. The plant is estimated to contain twice the protein and calcium content of milk, several times the potassium of bananas, more iron than spinach and several times the vitamin C of oranges.

Moringa's high vitamin A content, almost four times that of carrots, is recognised as a potent micronutrient source to achieve the 2015 millennium development goal to reduce child mortality by two-thirds. Worldwide, an estimated 670,000 children die annually from Vitamin A deficiency.

In Haiti, moringa's role could also be vital for rearing goats and chickens, increasing milk production, and for fish farming, said Chancy.

Yet the government faces a challenge to increase the planting of moringa and is trying to provide risk capital to further develop moringa plantations.

Timote Georges, of the Smallholder Farmers' Alliance, says his members are crucial in cultivating moringa but need better processing techniques and market access for their products.