UMCOR volunteer Marwa Abdulwahab carefully washes moringa leaves before cooking them, during UMCOR’s recent East Darfur Moringa training in Sudan.
By David Tereshchuk*
January 30, 2014—Darfur remains linked in many Western minds with starvation and violence—but in fact that long-troubled region of Sudan is experiencing many more positive developments these days.
Since peace agreements were signed in mid-2011 between the national Sudanese government and Darfurian rebel movements, some autonomy has been established for individual states in Darfur, and a measure of greater stability has been achieved, although outbursts of violent conflict can still bedevil the region.
Work goes on, in spite of any such challenges, to improve people’s everyday life. In the still-new state of East Darfur, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has been contributing to a major boost for local agriculture. A new training program concentrates on the benefits that local people can gain from the remarkable Moringa tree.
Two UMCOR trainers, Mozart Adevu and Benedict Kyei, were called in from Ghana, another African country where UMCOR works. They traveled to El Daein, the capital of East Darfur, in November 2013. The training they set up was aimed at local UMCOR staff, nongovernmental organizations based in East Darfur, government and ministry officials, and, of course, local farmers. The local agriculturalists, “lead farmers,”were recruited from among both long-settled residents of East Darfur State and beyond, and internally displaced persons who had found refuge in the El Neem IDP camp near the town of El Daein.
A total of nearly 90 people received the training—about half of whom were women. One perhaps unexpected but welcome sign came when the training proved so popular that it attracted attendees from among the Sudanese Armed Forces.
A Versatile and Resilient Tree
At the heart of the training is the distribution of Moringa Oleifera seedlings. These seedlings are extraordinarily resilient, and, given the kind of care in which the recipients are trained, they record a survival rate of 90 percent.
Obtained by UMCOR through funding from the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance of USAID, the trees are especially well-adapted to Darfur’s difficult climate since they are not adversely affected by the hot and dry conditions. The Moringa is fast-growing and can reach 10 feet in height within a year. Its leaves can be used as livestock fodder and as mulch for crops.
In terms of human consumption, its leaves and seeds provide tasty food that is also rich in vitamins, minerals and micro-nutrients. If the leaves are dried, they work effectively as herbs to sprinkle on dishes, or to make a tea-like hot drink. Non-food uses include the production of soap and oil – and its seemingly endless properties also include functioning as a water-purifier.
Much of the UMCOR training focuses on preparing Moringa dishes in ways that best preserve its helpful qualities—avoiding over-cooking, for instance. Using Moringa as a nutritious supplement to existing popular recipes is also encouraged, and special emphasis is laid on the proper ways to clean and prepare the leaves before using them.
Farmers Call Moringa “Tree of Life”
Lead Farmers in the El Daien program said they looked forward to taking their training back to their home areas, and spreading the skills of Moringa cultivation and use among their agricultural communities.
Elawa Mohammed Al-Dood, a 55-year old mother of seven children from the village of Abu Matarig, far to the south of El Daein, said: “The Moringa tree does all these good things for all of us—really, it is the tree of life.”
And 32-year old Awadia Babo Shash, with two children, who came from the closer locality of Algalabi, said: “This tree should be called ‘the children’s friend,’ or ‘the friend of pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers.’”
In the future, UMCOR also has a longer-term aim with the ever-helpful Moringa. It plans to help farmers go into business packaging and marketing leaves for sale in their local markets.
Your gift to Sudan Emergency, UMCOR Advance #184385, will help such communities to re-establish normal and healthy lives.
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to www.umcor.org.