Moringa: The Tree of Life

In Niger, NCBA CLUSA's Moringa VC project is taking full advantage of the benefits this plant has to offer to the people of Niger. The Mission of Moringa VC was to rapidly expand the production of moringa and the marketing, processing, and consumption of moringa leaves in Niger.
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This blog is part of a series organized by The Huffington Post and the NGO alliance InterAction to call attention to the crisis in the Sahel, a region in sub-Saharan Africa where more than 18 million people face starvation and 1.1 million children under the age of 5 are at risk of dying from acute malnutrition. Click here to read more of HuffPost Impact's coverage of the Sahel and here to find out what InterAction members and others are doing in the Sahel.

Standing in the powerful sun of Niger's hot season, mango trees dancing behind her in the dusty breeze, 56-year-old Lamisi Karimou speaks with a reserved gratitude of the recent changes in her life. Mother of nine, head of a 12-person household, and widow of 15 years, Karimou did not dream that she would one day be able to increase her annual income by more than 400 percent. In the past two years, working with NCBA CLUSA's Moringa Value Chain (Moringa VC) Project in Niger, Karimou's income grew from $200 to $920 annually.

"It used to be that after the hot season, we were left empty handed," Karimou says. "Now [with our moringa production] we have food, clothes, and money for education and healthcare for our children. We have used the profits from selling moringa to purchase animals, and even a new irrigation system for the garden to [further increase production]."

In the midst of a global economic crisis, situated in a drought-stricken area, how is such transformation possible?

Niger, a land-locked West African country sharing seven national borders, sits directly on the beltway of the Sahel's drought and food insecurity. Ranking 186th out of the 187 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index report, Niger is the second poorest country in the world. According to an NCBA CLUSA International report,

About 85 percent of its estimated 15 million people liv[e] in rural areas and primarily surviv[e] on subsistence or near-subsistence agriculture. Niger is also one of the fastest-growing countries in the world, with an annual population growth rate of just over 3 percent. Alarmingly, this population growth rate exceeds the agricultural growth rate, which is slightly over 2 percent.

Almost all of Niger's agricultural production occurs in a band across the southern one-fifth of the country... there is an annual rainy season of about four months during which most of the agricultural production for the year occurs... Periodic droughts... can have catastrophic effects, especially because many people have inadequate diets even in years of normal rainfall.

In 2005, 2009, and 2011, poor rainy seasons in parts of the country caused crops to fail and resulted in increases in the incidence of malnutrition, especially among children. With this precarious situation regarding food production and nutrition, one report concluded that the 2005 food crisis was "not just a temporary emergency. It is the predictable and inevitable result of inadequately addressed chronic poverty in Niger."

In USAID's Responding Early and Building Resilience in the Sahel, Nancy Lindborg says "We know we can't stop droughts from happening, but we can and do commit ourselves to early action when we have early warning signs, with a focus on highly targeted programs that build resilience even as we meet urgent needs."

In response to this call for resilient and innovative solutions to the crisis in the Sahel, NCBA CLUSA has looked toward the most resilient and innovative resource in agriculture today:

Although few Westerners have ever heard of it, moringa is potentially one of the planet's most valuable plants, at least in humanitarian terms. Perhaps the fastest growing useful tree, it commonly tops 3 m -- or even 5 m --within a year of the seed being placed in the ground...

This tree is raised for food rather than forestry. A sort of supermarket on a trunk, it yields at least four different edibles: pods, leaves, seeds, and roots. And beyond edibles, it provides products that make village life more self-sufficient: lubricating oil, lamp oil, wood, paper, liquid fuel, skin treatments, and the means to help purify water, to name but a few. The living tree, itself, also provides such things as shade, landscaping, and shelter from the elements.

Arguably, this multi-tasking species is the most exciting tropical resource still awaiting widespread application.

In Niger, NCBA CLUSA's Moringa VC project is taking full advantage of the benefits this plant has to offer to the people of Niger. The Mission of Moringa VC was to rapidly expand the production of moringa and the marketing, processing, and consumption of moringa leaves in Niger.

During the three year duration of the project, at a cost of less than $1.4M, Moringa VC managed to double the moringa cultivation in Niger while increasing the annual moringa related incomes per producer by $117. Women's involvement has been a large focus of NCBA CLUSA staff throughout the project with careful monitoring and evaluation of women's participation. At the project's close in April, 2012, there were 6,700 new moringa producers -- largely exceeding the project objective of 1,500 new producers. Women accounted for well over 60 percent of the new producers. (Nadeau & Zakaria, 2012)

"Focusing on women as a key element in this process ensures food security for the whole family," says Amy Coughenour, NCBA CLUSA's Vice President for International Development.

On average, moringa producers in the program increased their annual moringa-related income from $23 in 2009 to $140 by the end of 2011. This represents a 509 percent increase in income, dramatically higher than the project's three-year goal of 75 percent.

The success of NCBA CLUSA's Moringa VC project goes beyond new producers and income generation: 10,400 producers received training in moringa horticulture, 119 producer groups were formed, 63 seed farms were established, and nearly 1,900 individuals and small businesses received loans totaling the equivalent of $274,000 with a cumulative loan recovery rate of 94 percent. Roughly half of these micro loans went to women. 116 trainers learned how to include moringa in nutritional education courses, 4,700 beneficiaries learned about the role of moringa in family nutrition, and 3,200 people received business skills training. (Nadeau & Zakaria, 2012)

Moringa, combined with NCBA CLUSA's decentralized, inclusive, and collaborative approach has proven to be a sustainable, resilient and innovative answer to the food crisis across the Sahel. NCBA CLUSA currently works with moringa on two projects in Niger, in addition to projects in Mozambique and Senegal.

Nigeriens are passing along the knowledge they have gained through Moringa VC to their families, neighbors, and friends. The innovation and resiliency of a solution like reshaping the moringa value chain in Niger has transformed thousands of lives, and is an example for all in how to address the Sahelian food crisis today.

Karimou smiles and adjusts her headscarf in the wind as she chooses the words to best express the recent changes in her life. "Before moringa, we did not have profit. Now we do. Thank you."

This article is based on the Moring VC Case Study by Emile Nadeau and Mamoudou Zakaria. Please click HERE to read the full case study.

The National Cooperative Business Association's CLUSA International program is the oldest not-for-profit cooperative development organization in the United States. NCBA CLUSA is a globally recognized leader in organizing people to help themselves. The program facilitates cooperation and sustainable, international development in the areas of food security and agriculture, democracy and governance, natural resource management, and community-based health with more than 20 projects in 15 countries. Working with a variety of groups and institutions, including farmer cooperatives, businesses, and local governments, NCBA CLUSA builds capacity at the grassroots level to create tangible, sustainable improvements for farmers and families alike.

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