Who would have thought the leaves of one very ordinary looking tree would hold the secret for addressing three critical issues in Haiti: improving nutrition, empowering women and expanding agricultural export.
The leaves of the fast-growing moringa tree, which grows throughout Haiti, contain 9 essential amino acids, 27 vitamins and 46 antioxidants, making it one of the most nutrient dense plants on earth. Just one tablespoon of dried moringa leaf powder is the equivalent of a full serving of vegetables plus a multivitamin combined, making it a valuable tool for improving nutrition. The moringa tree thrives with minimum water and nutrients, growing from seed to 13 feet in one year. And it can't be cut to produce charcoal because it turns to powder when burned, an important self-preservation feature in a country that depends on trees for 75 percent of its total energy consumption.
The Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) is currently looking into the best way to involve smallholder farmers in Haiti to both grow moringa trees and process the leaves into powder. An important part of this planning process is determining how to ensure a clearly defined role for women farmers as part of the operation. An announcement regarding the final plans will be made before the end of September.
The SFA is partnering with Kuli Kuli, the company that first introduced moringa in food products in the United States, to consider options for introducing Haitian moringa to the North American market. While moringa will continue to be grown for domestic use in Haiti, the long term goal is to capture a portion of the expanding international moringa market on behalf of the country's smallholder farmers.
A second partner with the SFA in this venture is renowned chef José Andrés and his non-profit organization, World Central Kitchen. They are helping to both introduce moringa into the American palate and to advise on its application to improving nutrition in Haiti and other developing nations.
World Central Kitchen is currently collaborating with Kuli Kuli to promote a nationwide moringa recipe competition on Instagram, using the hashtag #MoringaInspired to raise awareness and support SFA's work in Haiti.
Chelsea Clinton and Donna Shalala, the new president of the Clinton Foundation, were in Haiti last week to meet with local partners--including the Smallholder Farmers Alliance--that promote economic growth and development, the empowerment of girls and women and support for small businesses.