By Meg Hewitt

The Moringa tree, originally from the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in Northwestern India, is saving the lives of children in Matam, Senegal.
Even in the dry season and during times of drought, the resistant Moringa tree continues to produce leaves. These trees are vital as one in five children in this region suffer from malnutrition, according to the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI).
As part of the USDA McGovern-Dole Food for Education program, Counterpart International has teamed up with Peace Corps volunteers to help 38 communities plant beds of this valuable tree.

Farmers are taught an intensive cultivation technique that plants many trees close together in deep soil that maximizes the amount of leaves per tree. High leaf yields are important because then people can utilize them in both fresh and dried forms.

Benefits of the Moringa tree

Dry Moringa leaves are ground down to a powder, which can be used in a variety of ways. This process condenses the nutrients so that large doses of nutrition can be added to traditional Senegalese dishes year-round. The leaves’ nutritional attributes include amino acids, vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, potassium and proteins to name a few. Although the leaves are particularly nutritious, every single part of the Moringa has benefits — including the trunk, bark and roots.

Emphasis has been placed on informing local families about the resultant powder’s benefits for pregnant women and mothers who are nursing newborns, children under five and the most in need of the extra nutrients that prevent and reduce malnutrition.

Peace Corps partnership

Seven consecutive days in June, staff from Counterpart and Peace Corps volunteers visited communities and trained participants to plant beds of the Moringa. Demonstrations gave communities essential knowledge on how-to build sufficient plots, dig soil and obtain materials needed for the bio-intensive farming technique of “double-digging.”

“This initiative is a great example of Counterpart’s lasting partnerships for social change – teaming with Peace Corps volunteers has made this project all the more successful for the communities,” says Josephine Trenchard, Counterpart’s Chief of Party in Senegal. “I look forward to seeing an improvement on the nutrition status of these communities as they embrace the opportunities this Moringa tree offers.”

Counterpart staff traveled to each participating community to evaluate site suitability, communicate preparations for the plot and conduct trainings on how to harvest and utilize different parts of the Moringa tree. Square beds were created at elementary schools, middle schools, health posts, water sources and in the compounds of community leaders.

Long-term benefits

In six months, Peace Corps volunteers will measure the bed spacing to assure they a better overall yield considering soil type. They will also provide additional hands-on trainings on how to harvest and tend the Moringa beds, trim the leaf for replication and grind the leaves into powder.

This project has the potential to impact the health habits and agricultural knowledge of participating communities in the long-term. Communities now have the knowledge and skills to carry out examples of intensive cultivation that they can teach to others. Counterpart and Peace Corps volunteers will continue to work on the Matam region project and replicate this sustainable practice elsewhere in Senegal.

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