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! Sustainable Farms in Kenya

Grant Update! Sustainable Farms in Kenya

“We must translate our science into practice.” A simple statement which boils down a Moses Mukongo’s approach to farming in the western part of Kenya. Moses learned about the science of sustainable agriculture at Manor House, and now he and his team at Community Mobilization Against Poverty (CMAP) are passionate about sharing that science with small-scale farmers who can put it into practice. These are farmers who are growing food for their own families and to also sell some at the local markets in the areas surrounding Kitale in western Kenya.

Grant for Workshops

Since receiving a SIA Community Grant last December, CMAP has hosted a series of sustainable farming workshops, benefiting over 165 people. The trainings involve men and women, with women playing a major role in traditional farming in Kenya.

Kapkoi women farmers preparing their spinach nursery for transplanting.

Kapkoi women farmers preparing their spinach nursery for transplanting.

The trainings involve sessions about double-digging (to promote healthy soil and create raised beds), companion planting (maximizes space and pairs plants that will grow well together), composting (healthy soil and nutrients for the plants), and the use of open-pollinated seeds (so that seeds can be saved from season to season). (Read more about these techniques here – you can implement them in your garden/farm too!)

Moses is passionate about promoting these techniques and telling people the many ways their farms can benefit from using them. “The practices are low-cost and non-polluting, they produce maximize agricultural yields, build soil fertility, and minimize inputs of water, energy, and fertilizers!” The practices not only help people grow more food to eat and sell, they also benefit the environment and help mitigate effects of drought or poor soil.

Sharing the Gift

We ask all our community-based organization partners to “share the gift” by helping others in their community. CMAP embraced this call by implementing the “Five-Farmer Challenge.” Every farmer who attends the workshop is challenged to reach out to five other farmers to share what they have learned. They have also reached out to one of the local primary school to start a school garden as part of their “Farmers of the Future” project. This is the ripple effect of SIA grants!

Students during the Farmers of the Future training at the elementary school.

Students during the Farmers of the Future training at the elementary school.

Learning from Nature

“In sustainably producing food we must use nature as our guide,” writes Moses in one of his passionate letters to me, “we must escape from the poverty of affluence which is always striving to accumulate more of things and we must ‘seize the day’ in recognizing the opportunity for finding a new way of living in harmony with nature and humankind in the new millennium.” Well said!

The CMAP Research and Demonstration garden at the beginning of the 2015 cropping season.

The CMAP Research and Demonstration garden at the beginning of the 2015 cropping season.

Dreaming of Spring

Dreaming of Spring

“What are those crazy things hanging in the tree?” I asked the SIA Small Business Fund Coordinators when we saw them on the site of our conference in Uganda last summer. Most of us didn’t know what it was since Uganda is much more tropical than where the rest of us live. We did get to try the jackfruit before the end of the week and it was a nice mellow melon flavor. I was at a restaurant in Toronto recently that served jackfruit and it brought back good memories of being together with all our wonderful Small Business Fund leaders.

Much of the country is buried in snow this week and it has me dreaming of spring – of warm earth, budding leaves, and seeds sprouting. I also heard from a new friend in Malawi that most farmers there planted their crops last month, so things should be growing already!

With those thoughts in mind, here are some seed-related inspiration and photos from my trip last summer!

“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” — Mexican Proverb

“Who would put a seed in the ground and then plant a stalk in the ground above the seed? For the stalk grows out of the seed – from within it, never from without; So the answer grows out of the question, the fulfillment out of the need, and the Love out of the yearning.” — Glenn Clark, “The Soul’s Sincere Desire”

“A seed never has any doubts as to what it is going to grow into, therefore you must have no doubts whatsoever about the seed which I have planted into your consciousness. Simply know it will grow and flourish and will be perfect.” — Eileen Caddy

Kubadwa's stand of winter maize in Malawi. The winter crop (July, in the southern hemisphere) is very profitable, since it is out of the normal growing season. Canaan Gondwe, the local coordinator, told us that "it is hot cake," selling quickly in the markets - and fetching a good price! The Small Business Fund program and the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative loans help farmers invest in winter crops.

We visited Kubadwa’s stand of winter maize in Malawi. The winter crop (July, in the southern hemisphere) is very profitable, since it is out of the normal growing season. Canaan Gondwe, the local coordinator, told us that “it is hot cake,” selling quickly in the markets – and fetching a good price! The Small Business Fund program and the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative loans help farmers invest in winter crops.

Kubadwa (left) has shared the gift with Kamanya Zuru. He gave him two plates of bean seed and showed him about how to plant  the seeds, use compost manure and double dig the beds to prep them for planing.

Kubadwa (left) has shared the gift with Kamanya Zuru. He gave him two plates of bean seed and showed him about how to plant the seeds, use compost manure and double dig the beds to prep them for planing.

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:

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