By Jesamé Geldenhuys
Damien De Wet, Robert Davies and Daniel Long are three young Grahamstown locals who have recently taken on a revolutionary initiative and project; the Moringa tree. Since early August they have been growing and cultivating the Moringa plant on the Three Chimneys Farm in Grahamstown as the experimental start of a huge new nutrition and food initiative in the Eastern Cape.
Moringa oleifera, or the Moringa tree, is the most well-known of its species because of its resilient and durable growth characteristics; harsh arid climates, drought and frost; it thrives in tropical and sub-tropical areas. It is also called ‘The Miracle Tree’ for its multiple nutritional, medicinal, industrial and agricultural purposes.
The tree produces extremely valuable seeds that contain a high amount of pure, sweet, edible oil that is used for cooking and is also being researched as a bio-diesel. Moringa olefiera, also known as a ‘green superfood,’ is an all-round power multivitamin and has huge amounts of calcium, iron, potassium and other necessary vitamins and minerals in its leaves and roots. The leaves are dried and ground up into a leaf powder which is taken in capsules or sprinkled over food; can also be thrown in salad or eaten like spinach.
“What makes this so exciting is that Moringa is now being recognized as a potential saviour to Africa’s rural crisis of malnutrition and poverty,” says De Wet, a Rhodes University Geography honours student who wrote his thesis on the Moringa tree and part of the plantation initiative in Grahamstown. Moringa is such an important potential food source because it can be grown extremely cheaply and easily. Ghana has chosen Moringa as their national food crop and many other African countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and Malawi have also begun seeing the potential in the plant.
The Moringa oleifera leaf grows promises of a sustainable source of nutrition, income and employment and can only benefit our local industry. “It’s got amazing properties and potential to help rural communities by providing an essential source of nutrition and income without people relying on the government for support, which is a huge problem in South Africa,” said De Wet.
Awareness is only now slowly beginning to grow in South Africa. “Particularly in Limpopo, Gauteng, North West, Mpumalanga and Kwa-Zulu Natal is where it gets farmed the most. Very little Moringa is grown in the Eastern and Western Cape and we hope to change that,” explains De Wet.
De Wet’s research critically explored Moringa as an aspect of sustainable development in South Africa and he was able to explore areas all over South Africa that are currently farming the plant. He explains that one of the biggest challenges with Moringa in the South African context is that it prefers heat and higher altitudes, growing best in dryer areas in Central Africa.
Although research shows that it can grow in the sub-tropical conditions of South Africa, it struggles a bit more since our climate sits between ‘not hot enough’ and ‘too cold at night.’ For this reason, De Wet and the team have decided to focus on food forest farming and inter-cropping with the Moringa plant, “Then the tree can grow around other plants and serve as a forest species where it’s much more likely to thrive in our conditions and serve rural areas than if it were grown on a large-scale commercially.”
Another reason that De Wet, Davies and Long have decided to work with the plant is that it is also a perfect species for reforestation processes. This is because of its inter-cropping and agro-forestry farming systems. These systems allow the deep tap root of the Moringa tree to go deeper down into the soil where it mines water and nutrients away from the other smaller crops with more shallow root structures; therefore diverting competition. The Moringa tree is also very beneficial in restoring degraded agricultural land in the ability of the root structure to break up the soil and make it arable again.
“Our vision is to teach rural communities about the plant and about food forest farming so that Moringa can become prevalent throughout the country. This would give impoverished communities a healthy and nutritious Moringa option… It also brings jobs and income opportunism to these communities giving them the nutritional autonomy and income needed to become self-sustaining…” says De Wet.
De Wet, Davies and Long haven’t been able to resist an opportunity to try grow Moringa and currently have hundreds of little plants growing in their hothouse. “We are planning to grow the plants until they are strong enough to move out into the field. In the meantime we are prepping a few farms to transplant them to. We have also been working independently with a community in the Transkei where we will be starting a food forest using 500 Moringa trees,” said De Wet.
De Wet and the team hope to have a local Moringa supply up and running by next year, selling seedlings and plants to anyone interested in the initiative.
For more information into the ‘Tree of Life,’ check out this page http://miracletrees.org/
Image retrieved from Sourced online from http://miracletrees.org/