Changing lives starts with a seed
Moringa, or “langa langa”, in the local language, has been a topic of conversation in my Beninese village lately. The cause of all the uproar? The moringa seeds are almost ready for harvest! What this means for over 100 women in my region is the economic ability to pay school fees and put food in their children’s’ bellies. The extra cash from selling their seeds will cushion the harshness of the last few months of a six month dry season. Traditionally, water shortages cause incredible economic hardship since agriculture is the predominant source of income in Benin. Unlike the majority of farmed crops, moringa is drought tolerant. Although it does not produce many of the nutritious green leaves during long dry periods, it will continue to produce seeds.
How to harvest moringa seeds
The most important step in harvesting, as is the case with everything, is identifying when the seeds are in the right state. Once the green, premature seed pods begin to look plump, brown and dried out, you are in business. It is important to catch the seeds in this stage before nature runs its’ course, the seed pods open on their own and your valuable seeds have been eaten by animals or swept up by wind. After removing the seeds from the pod, the seeds are left in the sun to dry out for a day or two. The last step is removing the white film from the seeds which can be easily done by rubbing the dry seeds together with two hands.
Although the seeds are popular for medicinal and health benefits, the best way to consume moringa is through the leaves. This means the best way to utilize moringa seeds is to replant them and wait for the next rainy season. This will bring leaves, which is exactly what my work here does.
Every woman my counterpart works with receives information on when and how to harvest the seeds on the moringa trees. In the next few weeks we will walk to all the women’s homes and buy the seeds they have collected for 3,000 CFA, or about $4.85 USD per kilo. It is not unheard of for women to have collected over 10 kilos of moringa seeds during these visits. Considering the average daily income in Benin is about 500 CFA or $0.81 USD, this one easy sale greatly changes the financial stability of families.
My counterpart resells some of seeds to turn a profit, then uses the rest to form partnerships with new women who want to start growing moringa. Using this method, she has already reforested Benin with thousands of trees. She claims she will continue to do so until she has connected moringa to every struggling woman in Benin.