Nelly Bassily | October 24, 2011
Mavis Mogasie Mathabatha planted a small forest of moringa trees in her home village of Tooseng, in Limpopo province, South Africa. The moringa trees are not for decorative purposes. This mother and grandmother harvests the leaves to make a nutritious supplement. This supplement is helping to improve children’s health in poor communities.
The moringa tree is not well known in South Africa. But in 2005, Ms. Mathabatha heard about moringa from her local reverend. They were discussing the problems of malnutrition and poverty when he told her that moringa trees were being used in Malawi. She decided to do some research to see if they could work in Limpopo. What she found told her it was possible.
The trees grow in poor soils and need minimum care. The leaves of the moringa are full of nutrients. They contain more vitamin C than oranges, more vitamin A than carrots, more potassium than bananas, and more calcium than milk.
When Ms. Mathabatha heard about moringa’s nutritional potential, she enlisted the help of local women. Together, they cleared an area and planted 1,500 trees. Ms. Mathabatha said, “Fortunately the trees grow very fast, and we were able to start picking the nutritious leaves within a month.”
She harvested the leaves, dried them, and ground them into a powder. She encouraged mothers to add the powder to their children’s main meal. She explained, “Most village families seldom have access to meat and vegetables, so the children don’t get the vitamins and minerals they need for healthy physical and mental development.” But once the mothers started adding the powdered leaf to their food, the results were there for all to see. The boys and girls blossomed.
In September 2010, the Department of Agriculture recognized Ms. Mathabatha’s initiative and named her Female Entrepreneur of the Year. Yet it was almost by chance that Ms. Mathabatha learned about the benefits of this versatile plant.
She founded an all-woman organization called Sedikong sa Lerato. So far, 300 families and more than 350 orphaned and vulnerable children are being supported by the organization. The organization is small but continues to grow. Recently, the women cleared more bush to make way for a further 3,000 moringa trees.
Scientists from the University of Fort Hare visited the village to assess the nutritional value of moringa leaves in South Africa. Local people came forward to share personal experience of the trees’ beneficial effect on their children.
This year, the scientists published their research. They confirmed that moringa leaves are rich in nutrients and can improve health and nutrition in Africa. They recommend that people consume moringa in powdered form. Powders are easily stored, and nutrients are more concentrated in powder form.
Now, Ms. Mathabatha and her organization are working hard to meet the growing demand for their moringa powder. There are challenges. They don’t have equipment or sufficient funds to prepare the land. They must grind leaves by hand, which is a laborious process. But they know they are performing an invaluable job.
Ms. Mathabatha said, “Before we started, malnutrition was very prevalent. But since we’ve started adding moringa to the children’s food … the children no longer suffer from malnutrition.”