Sharing the Gift: Moringa Edition

Sharing the Gift: Moringa Edition

“Of course I remain grateful to you and Spirit in Action for your patience with me and the encouragement you have always given to us in our work. Please remember that anytime you will be in need of expert knowledge to support any community-based Moringa project, in any part of the world, you can count on me to offer free voluntary service. It is not an exaggeration to say I can help in any work on Moringa from cultivation, processing and the entire value chain development.”

Sharing a piglet may be the most tangible way of Sharing the Gift. But the offer of “free voluntary service” by Newton Amaglo, SIA grantee and long-time correspondent with Del Anderson, is another exciting way that our partners pay-it-forward to benefit the larger Spirit in Action community.

Del and Newton (then an ambitious researcher at the Kwame Nkrumah’ University of Science and Technology, in Ghana) discussed bio-intensive farming, which can produce large amounts of food in a small garden plot. They also shared an excitement for the possibility of Moringa – a fast-growing and highly-nutritious tree – to improve the diets of people around the world.

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How can Moringa be incorporated into a diet? Newton explains, “the leaves can be harvested fresh and eaten cooked or uncooked in vegetable salad, soups and stews. It can equally be dried at home, milled, and stored in air-tight containers where it can be added to meals.”

In 2008, SIA gave $5,500 to Newton and his research team to start Moringa plantations at an elementary school and one of the local prisons. Prison food is as bad around the world as it is in the US, and so they were in particular need of nutritious supplements in their diets! The training and garden plots were just getting off the ground when Newton left Ghana for China, where he began working on a Masters degree and PhD in Horticulture.

In his letter Newton told me more about what he was researching, “During my Masters I worked on Moringa leaf production under high density and I have been working on various Moringa seed oil extraction technologies. I pray that all these years of painful sacrifices and studies will go a long way to help the human race.”

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Harvesting the Moringa plants.

Needless to say, I eagerly took Newton up on the offer to share his findings! He emailed back with a very helpful guide for starting a small-scale Moringa garden at home. The guide, (with pictures!) shows how to prepare a four meter square plot by turning up the soil (double digging) and adding manure. Then you sow seeds in the four quadrants and the Moringa leaves will be ready to harvest after two months!

The research is already rippling out through the SIA network. I remembered seeing small Moringa plants when I visited Meanly Mbeye’s home in Malawi in 2014 and thought that she could benefit from the information about intensifying her production. I sent the instructions to Canaan Gondwe to pass along to her and other community members.

Canaan was excited to receive the document and to learn more about Moringa. “The tree seedlings you saw at Meanly Mbeyes home have grown big and they are using the leaves for nutrition. May Newton share more literature of his research. Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative is interested in this.” And so, the research of one SIA partner is shared to another, strengthening our network and improving diets.

Menaly with the Moringa trees around her family's farm. Moringa leaves contain Vitamin C, Vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and protein!

Menaly with the Moringa trees around her family’s farm. Moringa leaves contain Vitamin C, Vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and protein!

Grant Update: Community Ownership in Bucece Village

Grant Update: Community Ownership in Bucece Village

Bucece has persevered. Through difficult situations, like poor crop yields and weather conditions, and delays in materials and supplies, the village has remained steadfastly committed to the work.”

Bucece Village in rural Uganda has partnered with Toronto-based Raising the Village (RTV) and Spirit in Action to improve their village and benefit the local farm economy. Two years ago, a SIA grant supported a sustainable agricultural training program and RTV has served as an ongoing on-the-ground partner. Now, the village is committed to continuing the program with their own local leadership and community ownership.

Early on, the the agricultural program suffered from poor weather conditions and after the initial training the crop was lost to rain and floods. However, the 2015 fall harvest season was successful and the village famers are finally being rewarded with benefits from new agricultural techniques and crop diversity. Increased use of compost fertilizer and double digging techniques, which enhance soil health, are having real, positive outcomes!

A Bucece household crop field using a double-dug agricultural row technique.

A Bucece household crop field using a double-dug agricultural row technique.

Community Organizing & Savings

The members of Bucece Village are working both as individual households and as a whole community to increase trade opportunities locally. After the recent bountiful harvest, the villagers are organizing a market in Bucece to draw buyers to the village instead of having to transport their own to the market across the lake. This will have huge material benefit for famers, because transport to market was long and severely impacting profit!

Bucece Village is also coming together each month to contribute to a village savings and loans association. From January through April 2015, collections average 25,000 UGX ($7.50 USD), and from May through December they have increased the savings to 50,000 UGX ($15 USD)! These funds are loaned out to households, in turn, to replenish seeds. They have also invested in new seed varieties, and individual households are re-investing their profits in diversified crops.

A Bucece villager brings back crops harvested from her field.

A Bucece villager brings back crops harvested from her field.

Community Leacership & Ownership

Although Bucece began this work in partnership with SIA and RTV, by January RTV will hand over all of the management of the interventions to the village, with monthly monitoring by RTV representatives. I really like RTV’s method of initial collaboration and ongoing leadership development, which over time leads to full community ownership of their own development. This is true partnership, with each group contributing from their strengths. It results in lasting change that perseveres long after the initial grant investment. 

(Pictured at the top is the view of the lake from Bucece Village.)

What is an OFSP??

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Women proud of their sweet potato harvest, at CIFORD Kenya.

OFSP? Orange flesh sweet potato. Or, as I call them, those vegetables that are really tasty baked and topped with butter!

While I’m used to the orange variety of sweet potatoes in North America, in Africa the white or yellow sweet potatoes are much more common. They taste similar but the white and yellow varieties are not nearly as nutritious as the vitamin A/beta-carotene-rich orange ones. It’s only in the last few years that the UN and many others have begun promoting the OFSP as a way to combat malnutrition and disease especially among women and children, who are particularly vulnerable to vitamin A deficiencies. The food we ate in Africa this summer was high in starch, with a few vegetables depending on what was in season – I could see the need for more vitamin-rich foods.

That is why I am happy to report that SIA is working with two partners who are promoting OFSP growth in their communities.

CIFORD Kenya, in Meru, Kenya, has been holding workshops to train farmers in growing, managing, and preparing OFSP. This work in their rural community is designed to both improve food security (ex. people have enough to eat all year) and reduce the environmental degradation of the soil. The CIFORD trainings are include classroom time and also get-your-hands-dirty practical time with farmers being brought to the CIFORD training garden for demonstrations. The OFSP helps protect the soil because its big leaves cover the soil, which reduces run off and erosion.

Many parts of the sweet potato can be used:

  • Vines are used as animal feed
  • The leaves can be eaten as the leafy green
  • The potato root can be boiled, roasted or made into chips, French fries, or flour
Crops planted by Bucece community members along the shores of Lake Mutanda. (Photo by Raising the Village)

Crops planted by Bucece community members along the shores of Lake Mutanda. (Photo from Raising the Village)

Also, Raising the Village has just completed a round of trainings in Bucece Village, Uganda with farmers who wanted to plant the OFSP seeds. OFSP can sell for much higher prices in the market because it is still rare to see them and because people know they provide a health benefit to their diets. The hills around Bucece are very steep and so the OFSP will be important for keeping the soil from running down into the lake.

Hopefully, next time I’m in Uganda I’ll get to try the local OFSP, eating it alongside the steamed bananas, rice, and boiled kale, and peanut sauce. Yum!

Mbwenu, Innovator

Tanya with Mbwenu, Wangwa, and one their sons. Mbwenu heard about the cooperative after moving home and immediately became an active member, including volunteering to be the group’s bookkeeper. The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative was initially started with a Spirit in Action grant in 2009 and now has over 150 members who can save and borrow within the locally-run cooperative structure.

Tanya with Mbwenu, Wangwa, and one their sons. Mbwenu heard about the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative after moving home and immediately became an active member, including volunteering to be the group’s bookkeeper. The cooperative was initially started with a Spirit in Action grant in 2009 and now has over 150 members who can save and borrow within the locally-run cooperative structure.

Sometimes it’s not easy moving home. Once you’ve been out to see the world you look at home through a different lens. “We had a shock,” was the way that Mbwenu and Wangwa described it to me when I visited their home in rural Manyamula in northern Malawi. The couple had gone away to Swaziland to study at a bible college and when they decided to move back to their home village many things were not as they had been in Swaziland. Their four sons now had to learn to live without electricity, and Mbwenu lamented how “it was hard for the boys to get used to the dark.”

Hearing this history it is not surprising that when Mbwenu and Wangwa sought their first low-interest loan from the local Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative (formerly called MAVISALO), they bought a solar-charged light battery and a full solar panel that they put on the roof.

Mbwenu stands proudly next to his solar panel charging station. This battery is charged with the solar energy and can power the lights and appliances in the evening.

Mbwenu stands proudly next to his solar panel charging station. This battery is charged with the solar energy and can power the lights and appliances in the evening.

At this moment in his testimony, Mbwenu snapped on the small battery light for effect, “ahhhh” we all marveled! He became animated as he took us around the room showing the small TV and lights they could have now with the solar panel. There was also a cell phone charging station next to the solar panel battery. I could tell he was the kind of person who liked to figure out these technologies and show off his successful installations.

I was so inspired by my visit with Mbwenu and Wangwa, and it gave me three insights about what makes SIA so great:

1. SIA’s programs are diversified

Mbwenu and Wangwa’s house was nice. It had a cement floor, stable brick walls, and tin panels on the roof. They were clearly not the poorest family in the neighborhood. And because of that they had not received a SIA Small Business Fund grant, which are reserved for the poorest. Instead, they had joined the SIA-supported Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, which gives very low-interest loans and is open to ALL community members, regardless of wealth. There are different SIA tools for each family to benefit.

2. SIA empowers rural communities to thrive

The family is developing their farm and investing in cattle and goats. “The COMSIP Cooperative is a big help,” Mbwenu explained, “we couldn’t buy the solar changing system all at once on our own.” Yet, their small farming enterprises are steady enough to be able to pay back the loan in a timely manner. A solar panel TV and light might be seen as “luxuries” in areas where there is no running water. Yet, these things made it agreeable for the family to move back to their village. And this means that the whole rural community benefits.

Mbwenu holds his son as he explains to the group how his bio-gas tank will work. Cows in the background will supply the manure.

Mbwenu holds his son as he explains to the group how his bio-gas tank will work. Cows in the background will supply the manure. Canaan (left in purple), the SIA contact for the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative, was so excited by Mbwenu’s enthusiasm for rural solutions.

3. SIA partners are innovative

The solar panel was just the tip of the innovative iceberg in Mbwenu and Wangwa’s household. He also showed us a bio-gas contraption that uses cow manure to make a cooking gas, and also creates a liquid compost by-product for the farm. At the end of the visit, surrounded by 10 COMSIP Cooperative on-lookers, a little boy, a rooster, and a brood of chicks Mbwenu demonstrated his prototype drip-irrigation garden. He’d seen the technique in Swaziland and was combining new technology with local supplies to create a system that allowed you to “attend a meeting while irrigating the crops.” At the thought of such multi-tasking ability, the group laughed and then began asking questions as they inspected the tubing and bucket.

It was exciting to witness these exciting developments from Mbwenu and Wangwa and see the many ways that SIA is serving and benefiting the people of Manyamula Village.

A crowd of interested cooperative members look on in admiration at Mbwenu's irrigation system. You add water to the buckets at the top of the beds and it slowly releases (through gravity) to water the garden beds.

A crowd of interested cooperative members look on in admiration at Mbwenu’s irrigation system. You add water to the buckets at the top of the beds and it slowly releases (through gravity) to water the garden beds.

Catch a glimpse: See their TV and laugh about watching the world cup in rural Malawi:

The Parable of the Big Idea

A Parable by Tanya Cothran

Once day a young woman had a great idea. She looked out over the lawn that filled the communal space in her apartment complex and realized that the space was being wasted. “No one even uses the lawn, but if we were to use the space to grow vegetables instead of grass many people would benefit,” she thought to herself.

A well-managed farm in Malawi.

A well-managed farm in Malawi.

Her idea excited her so much that she couldn’t help but tell everyone about her vision. She told neighbors and old friends, inviting them to come along and join the movement regardless of their gardening skills.

Excitement was high as a big crowd of volunteers gathered at the first meeting. Groups of people began ripping up grass, turning the soil, and planting seedlings.

The next day people assembled expectantly, looking to the young woman for guidance about what to do next. But the woman, the unassuming leader that she was, admitted she didn’t know anything about farming. “We are all learning together,” she said.

A very small tomato garden in Kenya.

A very small tomato garden in Kenya.

“But who does know about farming?” the crowd asked, turning to look at each other, searching for where to turn next.

Finally, one man in the group came forward saying, “I know about planting and caring for a garden.” He told the people to wait while he assessed the work already done.

The evaluation took a long time. “These plants are took close together and these seedlings are placed in the middle of a creek bed,” said the man. “The ground is too wet.” “These seedlings need to be taken out but that will lead to erosion and flooding now that the grass is all gone.”

Discouraged, the woman slowly worked out a plan with the man who knew. During this time, though, the crowd began to see that the project was disorganized and they were angry and felt misled by the promise of big things to come.

By the time the woman returned, everyone except three people had left. Then slowly the small group, humbled by their experience, began the hard work of removing seedlings, replanting grass, and learning about farming. Together, they decided to start with just a small plot of land for their farm and to wait until they saw the success on the small scale before they invited more people.

Parables are an invitation to see differently. How can this story help you see things in your life and work differently? What is the value of a plan? What are the benefits of an enthusiastic crowd versus a small group of committed people? What is the role of expertise and learning? Is it necessary to start small? What else?

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