Little could have prepared Brian and Jenny Scott for the hard work that would follow their retirement from their respective corporate jobs. The two had envisaged a fairly relaxed lifestyle, using their new-found freedom to conduct Christian outreach to the many impoverished residents of KwaZulu-Natal’s Valley of a Thousand Hills.
However, this idea was quickly turned on its head after the Scotts learned about the Moringa tree (Moringa oleifera) from their Margate-based daughter, Sue Nagel.
“About four years ago, Lifestyle Ministries of Canada donated a crop production tunnel to Sue for growing Moringa saplings for sale as part of a poverty alleviation project,” explains Brian. “She then facilitated the donation of a similar 10m x 4m tunnel to us.
“Our intention was to use the tunnel to run a vegetables and flowers project, but Keith Davies of Lifestyle Ministries encouraged us to grow Moringa saplings instead.”
There is extensive documentation on the nutritional benefits of the Moringa tree. Research has found that gram for gram, the Moringa provides the human body with seven times more vitamin C than oranges, four times the vitamin A of carrots, four times more calcium than milk, three times more potassium than bananas, and twice the protein of yoghurt.
Furthermore, all parts of the tree are edible. They can be consumed fresh, or dried and powdered to lock in the health benefits and concentrate the beneficial nutrients.
The origins of moringa 5000
Brian and Jenny recall that when the tunnel arrived, they had nowhere to erect it. The problem was solved when Dave and Jennifer Rigby offered part of their farm in Assagay for the purpose. “Keith suggested that we aim to plant and distribute 10 000 trees in the Valley of a Thousand Hills,” continues Brian, who was initially sceptical of being able to achieve this. Eventually, however, he drafted a project plan for producing 5 000 trees. Brian and Jenny called the project Moringa 5000.
To acquire funding for the propagation and distribution of saplings, the Scotts approached the Hillcrest Presbyterian Family Church (HPFC), where Moringa 5000’s project plan was well received. HPFC adopted Phase 1 of the plan and undertook to secure funding for the propagation of the first 200 trees and their distribution to the community.
“At around the same time, Spring Lights Gas in Westville donated sufficient funds for the 1 000 Moringa trees that would constitute Phase 2 of the plan,” Jenny explains. “From there, it all snowballed, with the Methodist Church in Kloof committing to buy 1 000 saplings to distribute through its own outreach ministry. “Then in 2013, the Methodist Church in Barberton, Mpumalanga, began its own outreach ministry based on the Moringa 5000 concept.”
Brian and Jenny had initially thought to approach international donors for the project. However, after holding joint discussions, the Scotts and HPFC decided that local poverty should be tackled with local resources and support. So they continued to seek support from businesses and organisations in the area.
“We decided to begin asking R5,00 for each sapling because we wanted the recipients to attach value and responsibility to caring for each Moringa tree that they owned,” Brian says. “It’s human nature to care better for things that you’ve paid for than for those received for free. What’s more, the nutritional value of a well cared for and regularly harvested tree will soon far exceed the R5,00 purchase price.”
Moringa 5000 uses its extensive connections with various churches and outreach ministries in the valley to promote the tree as a cheap, renewable and highly-nutritious food supplement among the impoverished residents.
In addition, the Scotts host regular training sessions to educate interested groups on how to best care for and utilise Moringa trees. They also conduct follow-up visits to see how the owners and their trees are faring.
Planting, pruning and harvesting
Moringa 5000 advises owners to plant their trees in light, sandy soils where they will receive full sunlight. A 30cm x 30cm x 30cm hole is dug, and the extracted soil mixed with compost. Half the compost and soil mixture is replaced in the hole, and the sapling and its root plug placed on top of the mixture in the middle of the hole. The remaining soil and compost mixture is then replaced around the root plug and patted down firmly.
The sapling should be well-watered for the first few days. Ideally, the trees should be planted in an area fenced off against livestock but if this is not possible, it can be protected by being planted within a stack of four old tyres.
For optimal leaf production, Moringa trees must be pruned regularly. Pruning also prevents them from growing too tall and so producing fibrous and bitter old leaves. The tree should be kept at adult human height. Clippings from pruning can be used as mulch.
Harvesting of the leaves should begin only once the tree can withstand removal of the leaves. It is also important to leave sufficient leaves for the tree to photosynthesise.
Enjoyed in a variety of ways
Moringa leaves, flowers and seed pods are surprisingly tasty. The Moringa 5000 training brochure points out that fresh and dark green leaves can be eaten as salad greens or mixed into cooked food. It’s important, however, that the fresh leaves are not heated to above 60°C, as their nutrients are then neutralised. Dried leaves can be used as tea or sprinkled on food, green Moringa seed pods can be cooked and eaten like asparagus, and buds and flowers can be lightly cooked before being added to a meal.
The growing value of Moringa 5000
Focus on iThemba is an accredited non-profit, public benefit organisation located in the Valley of a Thousand Hills. It focuses on disadvantaged and vulnerable children. With the guidance of Moringa 5000, iThemba has begun its own Moringa project, harvesting and selling excess Moringa leaves to Moringa 5000 for processing into health products while also growing saplings for sale.
The income is then ploughed back into iThemba’s sustainability projects to continue its non-profit work. “We planted our first 200 trees, donated by Moringa 5000 ministry, in September 2013 and have already generated about R10 000 income for iThemba from selling the excess leaves,” explains spokesperson Camilla Blomfield.
Gardener, Cecilia Noholoza (55), says she often eats Moringa.
“I used to get tired very quickly but since I began eating Moringa I can work until the sun goes down. I also used to have black marks on my face but they have also faded.”
With no prompting from anyone at Moringa 5000 or from iThemba, Cecilia is so convinced of the tree’s nutritional and health benefits that she hosts her own planting and training days in her community. Pastor Fanyana Dlamini, congregation leader of the Abambo community project: Church of Hope, together with his wife, Thokozile, runs a feeding scheme for children in their area.
Fanyana is also interested in the nutritional and health benefits of growing and eating Moringa, particularly as these relate to his church’s feeding scheme. He is growing his own trees and promoting the idea to other pastors.
Superfood to fight hunger
Brian and Jenny promote the Moringa as a superfood supplement and are convinced that it can alleviate hunger and nutritional deficiencies amongst the poorest of the poor. People with some disposable income can buy, grow and eat the leaves, flowers and seed pods of their own trees or even buy some of the Moringa-based health products manufactured under the Moringa 5000 name. These purchases will help Brian and Jenny to continue improving the lives of those in need.