DAKAR, Senegal: An ecumenical relief agency is cultivating a West African "miracle tree" that could be a nutritional dream come true in nations devastated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, widespread poverty and resulting malnutrition. Pioneering research by Church World Service, the relief ministry of the U.S. National Council of Churches, in cooperation with the Senegalese organization Alternative Action for African Development, has documented the moringa tree's value as a local, sustainable solution to malnutrition, especially among infants, children and mothers.
In Africa, a continent particularly hard hit by HIV/AIDS, the organization has planted a million of the fast-growing, drought-resistant trees, which have the potential of building immune systems, an important consideration in treating AIDS.
Lowell Fuglie and his wife, Caroline, help tend the patch on what was once an arid patch of land north of Dakar. Fuglie's work as head of Church World Service's West Africa regional office involves promoting the use of the moringa's edible leaves and pods, which have twice the calcium as milk, as a nutritional supplement for Senegalese.
The moringa tree, also rich in iron and potassium, flourishes in tropical settings, and produces so many useful vitamins that many call it "the miracle tree." With four times the amount of vitamin A in carrots, the moringa helps prevent blindness, Fuglie says. "In the Third World, there are hundreds — thousands — of people who go blind every year for lack of vitamin A."
Also called "the miracle tree", the moringa has many uses for the people of Africa. The leaves, leaf powder, pods, seeds, flowers, roots and bark of the drought-resistant moringa are edible, even palatable. Parts of the tree can also be used for animal feed, domestic cleansers, perfume, dye, fertilizer, medicine, water clarification, rope fiber, and as an agent for tanning hides. "It is miraculous that one single tree can offer so many uses for people," Fuglie says.
The moringa tree comes into full leaf at the end of the dry season, precisely when other foods are the scarcest. Moringa leaf powder conserves well, is easy to use in many recipes and helps purify contaminated water by settling the particulate matter.
As a result of the agency's pioneering moringa research, the government of Senegal is promoting moringa as part of the national diet. Health workers and representatives of other community and local non-governmental organizations in areas of the most severe malnutrition are being trained in its benefits.
The organization has promoted similar projects in Burkina Faso, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Niger, where mothers, children, and other members of various communities are benefiting from eating the leaves, seeds and pods of the moringa tree.
Church World Service is supported by 36 U.S. denominations, including The United Methodist Church. It is an ecumenical partner of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
The United Methodist Church has been responding to the AIDS crisis since the early 1980s through its agency, the General Board of Global Ministries and other church programs. More information on United Methodist work in HIV/AIDS is available at Global Ministries' Web site, http://gbgm-umc.org/health/aids/. Donations to support "Global HIV/AIDS Program Development," UMCOR Advance #982345, or "AIDS Orphan Trust," UMCOR Advance #982842 can be made through local United Methodist congregations, online, or by calling 1-800-554-8583.
Source: United Methodist News Service.
Willis is a staff member of United Methodist Communications. This story was originally published on December 4, 2003.
Photo: Leaves of the moringa tree. Credit: UMNS.
Please support UMCOR Advance #982345 "United Methodist Global AIDS Fund," Advance #101218, "AIDS Awareness and Children Impacted by HIV/AIDS in Africa," and Advance #982842 "AIDS Orphan Trust." UMCOR encourages you to give through your local United Methodist church. Gifts may also be sent to: UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. To make a credit card donation, call (800) 554-8583.