Put smashed moringa leaves on your eyes to cure headaches. Want twins? Take a moringa soaked shot of whiskey prior to conception. Use moringa soap to be stronger in the fields. Place the roots on your head and you will do better in school. Moringa has earned quite a reputation in my new home of Benin, West Africa.
Moringa in Benin, West Africa
Upon hearing most of these wise tales, I am able to listen and later have a good little chuckle with other Benin Peace Corps volunteers. Other time, I have found these stories harder to laugh off. Many of the stigmas surrounding moringa have traditionally served as roadblocks for people who should be including the leafy green in their daily diets.
Moringa is fast growing and versatile; it can be used as food, medicine, and construction material. For that reason, many have dubbed it as a tree for the Beninese poor. Its usefulness has worked against it and has stigmatized it as a tree only those in rural villages should grow, eat, and use. Once you have money you must buy meat, western medicine, and use construction materials you have to buy, not grow. Fortunately increased education throughout Benin has largely interrupted this thought process.
Power of Moringa
Due to the increase in demand for moringa, many Beninese are eagerly trying to capitalize on the opportunity. My counterpart, Pierrette is among the leaders of the moringa movement in Benin. She understands the value of moringa as a means to sustainably develop her nation. She is now the leading moringa powder vendor in Benin, but her journey was not easy. Benin faced extreme poverty after her husband and income source died and left her as an uneducated, single mother to five young children. She has overcome incredible obstacles to create her enterprise rightfully named, Le Confiance (“Confidence”), something she hopes every woman in Benin will someday feel.
Pierrette employs over 100 mainly widowed women in the area to grow moringa in their backyards and help her transform the leaves into a powder. Her five young children are among the healthiest and happiest I have seen during my time here. This is undoubtedly due to the large amount of moringa they consume every day and the financial means to go to school – something their mother would never have dreamed of being able to afford five years ago before she was introduced to moringa. Her story is incredibly inspiring and one that should not be butchered. The full story, including a first hand interview and photos will be released in the coming weeks.
There is still plenty of work to be done to educate the world on moringa. Particularly in Benin where it grows like a weed and half of children under 2 years old are stunted due to malnourishment. Although I somehow doubt that moringa has the power to give a trying mother twins after a shot of whiskey, I do not doubt the power moringa has to transform this nation into one where not even one mother has to let her child go through the day hungry.