Azosh – Moringa Smoothie

For those who are interested, there’s a few pics of one way to incorporate moringa into your regular diet – smoothies. I’ve been experimenting a bit with some moringa powder which Yared Sisay and I made when I lived in Awassa, Ethiopia. Generally, I add about 3 tablespoons to a full blender.

As previously mentioned, ‘According to Trees for Life (www.treesforlife.org), gram for gram, dried moringa oleifera leaves contain 10.5X the amount of Vitamin A as carrots, 16.5X the calcium of milk, 15X the potassium of bananas, 8.5X the amount of protein in yogurt, and half as much Vitamin C as an orange.’

Enjoy, and please let me know if you’re interested in purchasing some moringa powder from Ethiopia.

Selam,
JTV
Norwood, NC

Moringa Stenopetala: Potential in the Somali Region

I was just in the Somali region of Ethiopia – traveling from Awassa through Negelle Borano, Filtu and then on to Dolo Odo, about 2.5 km from the border of Somalia. You know, it’s only a simple footbridge that separates Somalia from Ethiopia…wait, wait, that’s a story for another time, and venue.

I went to the Somali region to scour the landscape for moringa stenopetala trees. Unfortunately, the only place I noticed any moringa stenopetala trees was inside a fenced compound in Filtu. A development worker, who was passing through, told me these trees were planted as forage for the livestock, but I was unable to further verify this claim.

It was encouraging, at least, to see that the trees are capable of growing in the Somali region, which averages about 300mm/ year of rain.  Moringa is a hardy, drought resistant tree, whose leaves are believed to be one of the world’s most nutritious vegetables.

According to Trees for Life (www.treesforlife.org), gram for gram, dried moringa oleifera leaves contain 10.5X the amount of Vitamin A as carrots, 16.5X the calcium of milk, 15X the potassium of bananas, 8.5X the amount of protein in yogurt, and half as much Vitamin C as an orange. Moringa stenopetala, the variety native to southern Ethiopia, has not been as extensively tested as moringa oleifera, but is believed to be quite comparable nutritionally. The leaf powder can be used to boost general nutrition and immune systems, treat malnutrition in infants, and it also increases lactation in nursing mothers.

Furthermore, the leaves and stems provide highly nutritious forage for livestock. When moringa constitutes 45% of forage, studies have shown a 30% increase in weight gain among beef cattle and at least that level of increase in milk production of dairy cattle. [1] [2]

It seems there is potential to experiment with moringa stenopetala seedlings in the Somali region, to be used for both livestock forage and also to treat mal-nutrition during periods of drought or extended dry seasons.

In Konso, a town in the southern part of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region, the locals intercrop their fields with moringa stenopetala and eat the leaves on a daily basis. The intercropping increases biodiversity, and the flowers on the moringa stenopetala trees also attract colonies of bees. The Konso people also use these fast growing and hardy trees to terrace their hillsides, thus preventing erosion and preserving the fertility of their fields.

If only more regions throughout Ethiopia, and the world for that matter, would adopt the advanced principles utilized by what some nationals consider the ‘primitive’ people of Konso. I would suggest the people of Konso are highly advanced in their knowledge of land management, nutrition, health and sustainability. These same practices can be put forth throughout Ethiopia in elevations below 1800m, and indeed have potential to positively impact the Somali region.

JTV
Awassa, Ethiopia

A few pictures from this trip will be posted shortly to Lamp Post Photos (link at the right).


[1] ‘Effect of different levels of foliage of Moringa oleifera to creole dairy cows on intake, digestibility, milk production and composition’ by Nadir Reyes Sanchez, Eva Sporndly, and Inger Ledin. Livestock science, 9 September 2005.

[2] ‘The Potential of Moringa Oleifera for Agricultural and Industrial Uses’ by Foidl N., Makar H.P.S, and Becker K. Nicarugua, 2005.

The Learning Curve

After stopping in Jima, we finally descended upon a deserted, but paved, landing strip – Gambella Airport, they call it. It was not unbearably hot when we landed in the afternoon on Tuesday, but we would soon know, all too well, the lowland heat of Gambella. After grabbing our bags from a trailer, which had been taxied the mere 20 meters over to baggage claim – a shade tree –  by a Land Cruiser, we headed into town. On the way into town, our driver pulled over and said he wanted to show us something. That something was a 12 foot python. Unfortunately, it had just been shot.

Aaron White of Samaritan’s Purse, Steadman Harrison of the Center for Creative Leadership, and I were in Gambella to conduct a Leadership Essentials for Peace training. A number of NGOs, in conjunction with government officials, are working in the Gambella area to diffuse tribal conflicts and provide relief to internally displaced persons. Staff members from ZOA, Samaritan’s Purse, Pact Ethiopia, the UN, and government officials attended. The workshop was designed by the Center for Creative Leadership as part of their Leadership Beyond Boundaries initiative.

On Friday, day two of the workshop, I was responsible for leading a session on the learning curve and what it means to constantly seek, and master, new challenges and skill sets. I used a quote, which I first heard from Ryan McCoy, to get the idea across – ‘There is no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone.’

If you are not familiar with the idea of the learning curve, the following example may help. I’ll certainly not forget it.

After going over the idea of the learning curve, I asked if everyone understood me, and if others had examples to share.  Tesfaye, a Samaritan’s Purse employee, stood up and said he thought he understood. His example (recalled from memory, so not an exact quote) was:

When I was young my parents always told me that I would quit school after the 4th grade to become a farmer. The fourth grade came and I convinced them to allow me to stay in school. By the end of 8th grade, however, they had had enough. They said if I was going to stay with them, I was going to farm and not go to school. So, I decided to leave because I wanted to stay in school.

For me, at that time, home and family was my comfort zone. I had to make a decision to separate myself from my comfort zone to obtain an education. I did this because I value education highly. I know I wouldn’t be here today if I had stayed in my comfort zone in the 8th grade.

Wow. What an example. And what guts that must have taken to make such a drastic decision at a young age. Think of what you were doing in the 8th grade. I sure was not setting out on my own in order to pursue an education, I was fortunate enough not to have to.

Let’s all take a lesson from Tesfaye and continue to challenge ourselves while seeking and mastering new skills, and frontiers. There’s certainly no comfort in the growth zone, but it’s the only place in which we may ever hope to realize our potential.

JTV
Gambella, Ethiopia

For more information on the Center for Creative Leadership’s Leadership Beyond Boundaries initiative visit: www.leadbeyond.org

Drying and Grinding Moringa Stenopetala

Highlights:

  • Preferable to grind and dry in close proximity to the where the leaves are grown.
  • Drying time: 3.5 days (but you could probably settle for 2 or 2.5).
  • Yield depends on coarseness of grind. I have 2.9 kg of finely ground leaf powder, and 2 kg of less finely ground leaf powder that together were derived from roughly 40 kg of fresh leaves.
  • Different methods of grinding: traditional vs. local mill vs. there’s probably a better way.

After arriving in Awassa with a truckload of fresh moringa stenopetala leaves, it was time to sort and dry the leaves. The optimal method, I believe, would be to sort and process the leaves immediately after picking and in relatively close proximity to the farm or farms from which the leaves were sourced. When you transport moringa, you certainly don’t want to pay the expense of transporting fresh moringa long distances, as it is much heavier than the leaf powder (finished product). Moreover, it is better to process the leaves fresh from the tree, rather than transporting before hand.

Unfortunately, we had to transport the fresh leaves the long 300 km to Awassa. The leaves were picked between approximately 4-7 am on Thursday morning, November 5th. We did not go directly, were not in a hurry, and arrived back in Awassa the evening of Friday, November 6th. Saturday was spent sorting the leaves and then laying them out on a large tarp in a warehouse style building to dry. It was excruciatingly slow work picking the leaves from the stems (again, something I believe could be done much faster and easier when picked fresh – possibly you only pick the leaves the first time through, and then go back and cut the green stems back in order to keep your trees at the proper harvesting height).

The leaves dried until Wednesday, November 11th. On Wednesday we then had a worker grind the leaves with the traditional, large style mortar and pedestal (pics of this process will soon be posted to Lamp Post Photos, link at the right). This yielded about 5.5 kg of ground leaf powder. Desiring a finer powder, I decided to take 3.5 kg to the local mill to see if they could grind it finer.

Yared and I had such severe allergy attacks while in the mill I thought we may both have to leave for lack of air. If it had taken five minutes longer, I am sure I would have had to leave. The air was full of dust, which was actually ground peppers, wheat, flour and anything else you can imagine that is possible to grind.

The owner of the mill, Ato Getu, is quite a gentleman. He wore a top hat and had that gentlemanly look about him, and did not let me down. He took the time to change the filter in one of his old grinders to ensure that we would get the finest quality he could produce. Then, he ground my 3.5 kg for free. Generally, it cost around 5 birr to grind 20-30 kg, depending on the product.

After grinding the 3.5 kg had been reduced to 2.9 kg., but was of a finer consistency. Conducting personal taste tests, I prefer the finer consistency because it is less leaf like to consume – as far as texture is concerned. It is, however, unfortunate, to lose so much of your product in grinding. I am sure you could devise a system that would prevent losing this much product when sieving and grinding.

The next challenge is to research nutritional reports on ground moringa stenopetala leaf powder, and hopefully get the powder we have tested. If anyone has advice on where I may test the nutritional value, and properties of the leaf powder, please let me know. I will be stateside for a month around Christmas, and hope to visit university libraries at that time to see what past research has been produced. I have read some reports claiming that other than vitamin C, very little nutritional value is lost in the drying process. Further, the powder, gram-for-gram, contains much higher levels of nutrients because it is essentially in concentrate form.[1]

Many thanks to Ben Taylor, Yared Sisay, Water is Life International and Selam Awassa Business Group for all of the assistance.

JTV
Awassa, Ethiopia


[1] Trees for Life International, ‘Moringa Presentation,’ http://www.treesforlife.org/our-work/our-initiatives/moringa/moringas-potential/moringas-potential

Moringa Field Trip

Highlights:

  • 270 km road from Awassa to Arba Minch is in disrepair, but a new road is under construction, with portions already paved.
  • A household south of Konso sells Moringa seed pods, harvested from their 13 trees, for 20 birr/ kg, which constitutes an estimated 12.5% of annual household income.
  • The same household also mixes the leaves in their diet for nutrition.
  • Purchased a ‘bundle’ (approx. 40kg) of Moringa stenopetala leaves direct from a farmer in the Dherashe valley for 50 birr.
  • Moringa s. trees in Dherashe valley were green and lush (altitude = 1200m).
  • Moringa s. incorporated heavily into the local diet in Konso.
  • Seed pods not sold at market, nor harvested in Arba Minch, Dherashe or Konso.
  • Hand-sized bundles (approx. 1/4 kg) of Moringa s. leaves w/ stems sold for 2 birr each in Konso market.
  • Next steps: drying and then grinding the Moringa stenopetala.

The trip to Arba Minch and Konso was a 101 crash course in Moringa cultivation and use in Ethioipia. I love going anywhere I haven’t been, seeing new landscapes, meeting new people and observing local cultures and economies. While the trip was a blast, it was one bumpy ride. The road from Awassa to Arba Minch is in absolute disrepair. Fortunately, they are building a new road in place of the previous one. It’s quite a long distance (totally 270 kilometers from Awassa to Arba Minch), so the road could take a while to complete. I’m guessing it may be completed in 2 years, but depends on the rainy season – maybe I’ll call the Roads Authority to get an official completion date, for what it’s worth. A good sign, the asphalt plant was up and running and portions of the new road are being paved…the tar and asphalt was a sweet smell of nostalgia for a guy who grew up on a steam roller.

Any assessment of the viability of sourcing a cash crop must first begin with accessibility. If you cannot transport the goods in an efficient manner, likely nothing else will matter – you are finished before you start. That is why the state of the road is so important. Currently, transport trucks can and do make the journey to Arba Minch (Arba Minch produces nearly all of the bananas sold in Awassa and Addis), but a tarmac road will greatly increase efficiencies in transport. Mr. Röschli tells me that only six years ago the road was in good shape and that you could, ‘have breakfast in Addis and lunch in Arba Minch.’ That’s remarkable, considering it took us roughly 6 hours to travel from Awassa to Arba Minch (Awassa is 300km south of Addis Ababa, and Arba Minch is another 270km south of Awassa). I look forward to a completed road and efficient transport.

The first Moringa we noticed was just south of Sodo, which is 150km south of Awassa. A local household had surrounded their huts with a few Moringa stenopetala trees (unless otherwise specified, ‘Moringa’ in this article can be assumed to mean Moringa stenopetala, as it is the most common and native variety to Ethiopia).

The lady said that she mixes the leaves in her family’s diet, but does not sell them. She was aware of some of the nutritional qualities of the plant, mentioning that she believed it was good for blood pressure. Ironically, a lot of the local people mentioned Moringa’s ability to cure diabetes or help with blood pressure. Most of the studies I have read focused more on the high levels of protein, calcium, potassium, vitamin A and C, iron and omega 3,6, and 9 fatty acids – all of which may be good for treating diabetes (I have not a clue) – but reports did not emphasize that diabetes patients could be treated with Moringa.

Further, this lady said that she sells the seeds for 20 birr (about $1.75 USD) per kg (2.2 lbs.) to a man who has requested the seeds. She did not specify for what purpose the seeds were being bought. She said each of her trees yields 2 kg. of seeds per year. Her 13 trees thus generate an extra 520 birr per year.

While not certain, I would estimate her household income not to be more than 250-300 birr per month. Assuming household income is 300 birr per month, the Moringa seeds generate over 12.5% of her annual income while simultaneously providing shade for livestock and nutrition for both the family and livestock. Across the road, her neighbor had roughly 30 Moringa trees in a small orchard which bordered a field that is generally planted for corn and teff. This year, the field was left fallow because the rains failed. Both of these ladies’ husbands work as day laborers on the road construction crews.

As we approached Arba Minch, which is at a lower altitude and likely has had more rain, the Moringa trees were fuller, with larger, greener leaves. South of Arba Minch, in the Dherashe valley (altitude is 1200m), the trees were extremely lush. We lucked-out and found a farmer, her name was Kasawa, who was selling her Moringa to a passing mini-bus, which would then take it to market in Konso.

Kasawa agreed to sell us a ‘bundle’ for 50 birr, after some negotiations. Later, I discovered the local price to be closer to 40 birr for a bundle. All things considered, that’s not a bad ‘ferenge’ price (price for foreigners) and it at least gives me a starting point to base financial projections on. Kasawa tells me that five trees will yield a ‘bundle’ every week. If it rains, the trees yield twice as much per week. Kasawa owned 10 trees, which she picked once per week – 5 were picked for the Monday market in Konso, and 5 for the Thursday market.

The tough part is there’s no exact science to what constitutes a bundle. I’m guessing it is likely based on the amount that someone could carry on his or her head – the alternate method to using a mini-bus to get your Moringa to the Konso market is loading it on your head and putting one foot in front of the other. From where we bought our Moringa, that is about a 35km (21.7 miles) uphill hike with over 40kg (nearly 90 lbs.) on your head. No walk in the park, and time intensive.

We bought the Moringa from Kasawa at 8:30am, and it was picked fresh that morning. Later, in Awassa, I learned from Ato Girma, who once worked for over five years in the Arba Minch/ Dherashe/ Konso area, that the locals are extremely hard working and honest, though they prefer to work early in the morning and late in the evening to avoid the midday heat. I would guess the women started picking our Moringa around 4am that morning.

In the Dherashe valley, the Moringa was planted sporadically throughout fields that are currently planted in corn. In addition to selling the leaves, the locals also use the trees as a perch from which to sit and protect their corn from birds and other animals. Evidently, there is no demand for the seeds in this area, and no one was harvesting them or selling them at the Konso market.

Upon reaching Konso, we finally treated ourselves to a breakfast of eggs, beg tibs (cubes of sheep meat), and traditional coffee and then headed straight for the market. The market was what you would expect of any local market in Ethiopia – a little of this, a little of that but mainly in-season fruits, vegetables, grains and wheat with people mulling all about buying and selling. It was easy to spot the Moringa. It was piled in large green bundles in the shade. One hand-sized bundle sells for 2 birr (about $0.16 USD). According to the market ladies, that is enough for one family (ie, 7 people) for a day (two meals) – the Moringa leaves are mixed into the local dish called kurkufa.

After the market we were fortunate enough to run into Habtamu, a friend of Ben’s. Habtamu is from Konso, though he grew up in Arba Minch, and recently graduated from Awassa University with a degree in Environmental Health. He now lives and works in Konso. Habtamu was exceedingly gracious with his time and knowledge. He described how Moringa is incorporated into every meal in Konso.

“Without Moringa, kurkufa is not eaten in Konso,” is how Habtamu put it.

Habtamu then introduced me to his cousin, Kusse Gelebo, who farms Moringa, among other crops. Kusse told me he has 30 trees. The trees collectively yield two harvests per week, though a tree is only picked every other week. Kusse also farms sorghum, peas, teff, cotton and cassava.

Of note – I saw Moringa wood for sale in the Konso market. Branches were being sold for 15 birr per branch. The branches were intended to be used to make ladders. Likely not a bad business, considering how fast Moringa grows (3-5m per year).

Back in Arba Minch I looked-up Petros, at the Kale Heyewet Church, who is known for selling ground Moringa. To my knowledge, he is the only supplier of ground Moringa leaves in Ethiopia, though there very well may be others. Petros is extremely knowledgeable of Moringa and was a great help. I purchased 1kg of ground Moringa Oleifera from him for 85 birr.

Petros proceeded to tell me more about how he purchases Moringa and the demand for his product. He says that he was introduced to the benefits of Moringa, and Moringa Oleifera, by a German organization called Anamed. Petros rents 6 Moringa Oleifera trees for 800 birr per year. Additionally, he has 12 of his own and there are over 20 additional Moringa Oleifera trees at the Kale Heyewet Church compound.

Petros says that one of his Moringa Oleifera trees is harvested three times per year and that the yield per tree is generally between 1-2 bundles, depending on the rain.

In a good month, he generates about 500 birr per month selling ground Moringa (some of which is the stenopetala variety, but most of which is the oleifera variety).

I found it hard to believe that anyone would even know about his business, as the church was hard to find and on a bad road. Not to mention the benefits of Moringa are not all together that well known throughout Ethiopia.

Petros informed me that once, Ethiopia Television had done a special on him and that is how some people have come to purchase the Moringa from him. I can only imagine what he could do if he had the capital to invest in advertising. He informed me that most of his customers were from out-of-town, generally Addis Ababa, and that the locals in Arba Minch had little interest in Moringa. Petros, however, is evidently optimistic about the demand for Moringa. He has purchased land which he intends to use to grow Moringa seedlings.

After briefing Petros and purchasing a kilo of ground Moringa Oleifera from him, it was high time to make our way back to Awassa.

As is obvious, the trip was highly informative. It was encouraging to discover that it is very likely possible to purchase the leaves in decent quantities from smallholder farmers – who, by the way, are known for their environmentally friendly agricultural practices (a lot of the hillsides are terraced and the farmers grow a wide variety of crops). That is not to say they couldn’t benefit from additional training and collaborating in best practices as regards eco-agriculture, but it was apparent the farmers are cognizant of protecting the land which sustains them.

There appears to be at least a small percentage of the population that is aware of the nutritional benefits of Moringa and has incorporated the fresh leaves into their diet. With proper advertising, a quality product, and consistent supply it may very well be within the realm of imagination to believe sufficient demand could be derived from an adequate portion of the population in Ethiopia, and possibly abroad.

I hope to now experiment with drying and grinding the Moringa leaves we purchased in Dherashe. The next step is to see if I can find a lab and doctor/ specialist to test the nutritional properties of the ground Moringa to ensure it is as healthy as advertised. I would like to compare the qualities of Moringa Stenopetala with the advertised qualities of Moringa Oleifera. I’ve heard the nutritional benefit is essentially the same, but we’ll see. Further, I would like to ensure the ground product, as compared to fresh leaves, is sufficiently nutritious.

Kus beu kus, or bit by bit, as they say…

JTV
Awassa, Ethiopia

Pics from the South

I’ve posted some pics from Nachi Sar National Park, which is located between Lake Abaya and Lake Chama, just outside of Arba Minch in southern Ethiopia. The purpose of the trip was to learn more about how the local populations surrounding Arba Minch and Konso use Moringa trees. A more in-depth report will follow shortly. Until then, enjoy the pics.

JTV
Awassa, Ethiopia

Mighty Moringa in the Marketplace: Enormous Opportunity, Enormous Challenge

Highlights:
  • The Moringa tree is believed to be one of the most nutritious plants on earth (see bullet-points below).
  • It is a fast-growing, hardy tree that has multiple uses, including nutrition for humans and livestock (from leaves and stems), oil extraction (seeds), as a growth hormone for other crops, as a bio-fuel crop, for reforestation, and as green, all-natural fertilizer, among other uses.
  • Moringa stenopetala variety is native to southern Ethiopia.
  • What, if any, are the market opportunities for this tree – specifically as concerns nutrition?

A few weeks ago I was out in the garden here at SABG when Mr. Röschli introduced me to the Moringa tree. He said its leaves were among the most nutritious vegetables in the world, and that I should ‘just look it up on the internet, you’ll see.’

Well now, that’s quite a statement. Immediately I went to work to learn more about this obscure tree. Here’s some of what I’ve discovered thus far…

A report by Trees for Life Journal claims that, gram-for-gram, Moringa has:

–           7X the vitamin C of oranges

–          4X the vitamin A of carrots

–          4X the calcium of milk

–          3X the potassium of bananas

–          2X the protein of yogurt

Further, Lowell Fuglie of the Church World Service reports, ‘For a child aged 1-3, a 100 g serving of fresh cooked leaves would provide all his daily requirements of calcium, about 75% of his iron and half his protein needs, as well as important amounts of potassium, B vitamins, copper and all the essential amino acids. As little as 20 grams of leaves would provide a child with all the vitamins A and C he needs….For pregnant and breast-feeding women…[a] 100 g portion of leaves could provide a woman with over a third of her daily needs of calcium and give her important quantities of iron, protein, copper, sulfur and B-vitamins.’ [1]

Interestingly, this tropical, fast growing (3 – 5 meters/ year), drought resistant, and hardy tree (zones 9-10 on the USDA hardiness scale) thrives in the same areas of the globe where malnutrition is most prevalent. Seems it was put there to serve a specific purpose.

From what I’ve read, nutrition is only the beginning. A high quality, edible vegetable oil – supposedly comparable to Olive oil – can be extracted from the seeds of Moringa, which contain roughly 40% oil. Historically, Moringa oil was used in lubricating watches and was then referred to as Ben oil. The oil has also been used in ointments (because it retains delicate scents), as well as in making quality soap.

The leaves of Moringa can be pressed to obtain a juice that, when mixed with 32 parts water and sprayed on fruits and vegetables, acts as a growth hormone. Yield increases of between 25-30% have been reported by Nikolaus Foidl and others when using Moringa as a growth hormone.[2] Moringa shoots can also be plowed under and used as a natural fertilizer to prepare soils for other crops (because the tree is fast-growing, the seedlings can be plowed under after only 25 days). The seeds, and the presscake leftover after oil extraction, can be used to treat turbid water.[3] Finally (well, I’m sure there’s uses of this plant that I have left out, but these are the main highlights), the plant makes a strong fodder for livestock – especially meat and dairy cattle. A study by BIOMASA reported milk yields and weight increases of 30% when Moringa leaves constituted 40-50% of feed.

Naturally, the next question in my mind was what, if any, are the market opportunities for this plant? And, just as important, how do you increase its adoption among the rural community in Ethiopia to increase health, nutrition, land stewardship, and income generation?

As for the market opportunities, at this point Moringa appears to garner a small, but growing, niche in the health and nutrition supplement market. An online search yields a few companies, most from India, but one from the US, that offer varying products based in ground Moringa leaves and espoused for their nutritional benefits. As a naïve consumer without prior knowledge of Moringa, however, I would give little thought to ever purchasing any of these products. For one thing, the nutritional claims seem outrageous (even though, after brief research, there are at least plenty of others saying the same things, and the claims are not out-of-line with the statements I’ve made above). Additionally, the websites do not project trustworthy, upstanding, reputable companies with which you would want to do business or purchase from – especially if you’re purchasing an edible product. Just visiting the websites gave me a queasy feeling about Moringa, and the online marketplace for this incredible plant. Maybe it was the way the organizations projected themselves and their products. Nevertheless, they turned me off.

Many of the India based companies would not even provide a price – you had to specify a quantity, and request a quote via email (I hate giving out my email address to unknown organizations, even though I did, and after four days I am still waiting on the quote). The US based company doesn’t make me want to purchase their product any more than the India based companies do, and it seems they are trying to build sales through a pyramid model – providing commission for ‘distributors’ based on sales and recruiting other ‘distributors’. I generally detest the pyramid sales model, which to me comes across as pestering and not reputable – if you have a quality product that will really enhance people’s lives, word-of-mouth, customer service, integrity, and a well-branded product line should suffice.

When considering the market for Moringa leaves, my initial thought is that there are two main markets – one in the developed world and one in the developing world. In the developed world the potential market consists of the ‘health conscious, organic, fair-trade, pro small-holder famers’ demographic. In the developing world, the potential market is primarily the millions of people who live on $2/ day or less and that are in need of extremely affordable nutritional supplements. The developing world would also yield a more upscale, educated market similar to the developed world target market, though it is much smaller (but growing). Targeting the higher-end clientele in the developing world could increase adoption among those at the base of the pyramid by making the product appear more mainstream. I don’t know how else to describe the market I am envisioning, but hopefully that gives you an idea of the prospective demand I envision.

Obviously, this leads to two very different price points and marketing strategies, but I believe one enforces the other. I have often thought about the specialty coffee market when trying to develop my thoughts on what a real Moringa market and supply-line would look like. Though the specialty coffee industry has its flaws, some end operators in this market do it well (or at least appear to – check out 3 Cups in Chapel Hill, http://www.3cups.net). By doing it well, I mean they value their customers, the in-store and online customer experience, help build customer knowledge of the product(s), and promote the small-holder farmers from whom they take great pride in purchasing from at fair prices. Thus, they connect the customer, the product, and the farmer in a way that enhances the well-being of all.

Moreover, coffee is not only consumed by those in the developed world who frequent coffee shops such as 3 Cups. While 3 Cups sources many of its coffee lines from Ethiopia, the local people surrounding these production areas also consume coffee themselves. Granted, there is an export grade and a domestic grade coffee, but the difference is hardly noticeable. I believe there could be a similar demand for Moringa – an export grade powder, and a domestic grade powder. That way, you can vary the price point and ensure that those who may be most in need of the nutritional benefits can afford the Moringa powder. Further, the more popular the product becomes, hopefully the more people will plant it in their own home gardens to ensure their families’ health.

Challenges abound in creating an essentially new market. First of all, introducing a new food/ nutritional product, especially in the developed world, requires overcoming regulatory hurdles. Extensive testing would likely have to be done in order to be accepted by a regulatory agency such as the Food and Drug Administration. Though, finding at least one US based company selling Moringa powder based drinks leads me to believe that some of these hurdles have been overcome.

Beyond overcoming regulatory hurdles, there are challenges associated with sourcing sufficient quantity and quality from small-holder farmers. As has been the case in the specialty coffee industry, the market can and will drive this.

I believe, however, there would need to be extensive training conducted to improve organic land management, water management, and cultivation practices (specifically drip irrigation systems, composting, and ecologically diverse farms). This ensures a higher quality product, while simultaneously increasing environmental stewardship among small holder farmers – absolutely critical to any long-term plans. Likewise, this should be incorporated into the marketing strategy so as to inform consumers that their purchases are reinforcing agricultural practices that must be followed if the world hopes to ever feed its growing population in a manner that nourishes both humans and their environmental resources (as the former cannot long exist without the later).

On this note, some glowing reports have been written concerning the agro-forestry practices of the Konso people, who cultivate Moringa in southern Ethiopia.[4] Regardless, best practices for cultivation must be determined and the market should demand these practices be followed in producing the desired end-product. Reputable organic certification (likely an enormous challenge in and of itself), as well as fair trade certification may also need to accompany an organizational guarantee which defines the farming practices the organization deems acceptable when purchasing Moringa. These practices should be centered on an eco-agriculture approach to farming. Eco-agriculture works to simultaneously meet three goals: a) conserve a full complement of native biodiversity and ecosystem services, b) provide agricultural products and services on a sustainable basis, and c) support viable livelihoods for local people.[5]

The next challenge is meeting quality control standards for export, both in product and packaging. More information is also need on the difference between Moringa Stenopetala variety (native to Ethiopia) and the Moringa Oleifera variety (grows in Ethiopia, but not extensively, and is native to India). It is believed that both varieties are highly nutritious, but most testing has been conducted using the more well-known Moringa Oleifera variety. Additional information is also needed concerning Ethiopia’s regulations in the food and drug industry.

On Wednesday I will be travelling down to Arba Minch and then Konso on Thursday to see if I can purchase Moringa leaves as well as some seeds. I will try to dry the leaves and grind them into a fine powder (for personal consumption/ testing). This will at least give me an idea of the price point, and an opportunity to speak to locals who have long believed in the benefit of Moringa and have experience in cultivating it. I will keep you all up-to-speed via a post-trip debrief and pictures.

JTV
Awassa, Ethiopia


[1] ‘The Moringa Tree’ by Dr. Martin L. Price, 1985, revised by Kristin Davis, 2000.

[2] ‘The Potential of Moringa Oleifera for Agricultural and Industrial Uses’ by Foidl N., Makkar H.P.S, and Becker K; Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, 2001.

[3] ‘The use of Moringa oleifera seed as a natural coagulant for water and wastewater treatment’ by Dr. Geoff Folkard and Dr. John Sutherland, 2001.

[4] ‘Konso agriculture and its plant genetic resources’ by J.M.M. Engels and E. Goettsch, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

[5] ‘Understanding Ecoagriculture: A Framework for Measuring Landscape Performance,’ Louise E. Buck, Jeffrey C. Milder, Thomas A. Gavin, Ishani Mukherjee, 2006.

New town, new job. Same country, same focus.

After completing nearly two years of work with Cherokee Gives Back (5 months in Raleigh, NC and some 16 months in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) I have moved to Awassa, Ethiopia to begin a six month contract with Selam Awassa Business Group (SABG). SABG is a start-up (2007), for-profit enterprise focused on the production of appropriate technology and renewable energy technologies; simultaneously, SABG operates a tuition free (funded by donors and SABG) technical and vocational training college. I’ll be working on developing marketing materials and a website for SABG this fall. In the spring, I hope to be doing assessments at rural health clinics to determine their renewable energy options. SABG is in a joint partnership with Practica Foundation and Dorcas Aid International to develop renewable energy technologies (wind mills, micro-hydro turbines, etc.) for rural health clinics in Ethiopia. I’ve been told that there are over 700 rural health clinics without power in Ethiopia.

I am excited about the opportunity to work with SABG and believe I will learn a lot over the next six months. I am also excited about living in Awassa. Awassa is a quaint, but growing little town tucked away on the shores of Lake Awassa and surrounded by small mountains. Just this morning I went for a smog free run (not possible in Addis Ababa) and then climbed Mt. Tabor in time to watch the sun rise over the town and the lake. It was one of those beautiful morning sunrises I won’t soon forget.

My time in Ethiopia thus far has been tremendous. At times it has been challenging and disappointing. Other times it has been richly rewarding, deeply insightful and inspiring. I have made great friends along the way and met countless people who certainly intrigue me. Ethiopians are some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever known (and I’m from North Carolina!). Undoubtedly, the country has many challenges before it (population growth and overcrowding, deforestation and land degradation, poor (but slowly improving) infrastructure, and a less than open investment environment), but I hope, and believe, it will continue to develop. I hope schools, such as Initiative Ethiopia International Children’s Association, continue to flourish. I hope more investors begin to consider opportunities in Ethiopia – where labor and land is in abundant supply – but, I hope those investments are environmentally enriching. Without fertile land, this agricultural based economy will shrivel up. I hope that population growth levels off and that the country can one day support its citizens without continual dependence on foreign food aid.

I am hopeful, but realistic. I figure, time will tell. It always does. In the mean time, I will work towards overcoming the challenges mentioned above, and believe one of the best ways to do that is by stimulating job creation through business and investment.

Start-up businesses excite me. That’s part of the reason I’m at SABG. There is so much opportunity, so much potential, and so much creativity. But, always, the companies are operating so close to the margin. That is, until they reach that breakaway point – some call it the ‘tipping point’ – and it all begins to seem like a snowball rolling down a mountain, effortlessly picking up speed and more snow as it goes (at least, that’s the goal). I hope to contribute to this snowball effect at SABG, but certainly they could do it without me.

Over the next six months, I will use this blog to focus more solely on my observations of the challenges and successes of getting SABG to that elusive tipping point.

JTV
Awassa, Ethiopia

Carbon Credits and the Rural Poor

Carbon credits could save the Sheka Forest and enhance the livelihoods of those actually ensuring the forests’ protection. From the forest floor, however, carbon credit financing appears to be more of an abstract ideal, than a reality.

‘We hear about carbon credits on TV and in the press, but we don’t see them,’ remarked Wetatu Bahiru Wolde Giorgis, a local clan leader and prosecutor. His office was simple, with no electricity (for the moment), seemingly on the edge of the wilderness.

Welcome to Masha town in the middle of the Sheka Forest, a tropical rainforest in southwest Ethiopia. From Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, it’s a treacherous two-day ride, on the public bus, to Masha. The roads are muddy, rough, and hilly the second half of the journey. The bus is hot, crowded, loud, stiff and altogether claustrophobic. My brother, Casey, and I were more than excited upon arrival. It was pitch dark and pouring. The runoff carved enormous, fast flowing gullies down the main, mud-washed street. Masha can ill-afford sufficient infrastructure to handle storm drainage and sewage.

Masha could not be further from the pristine streets of Copenhagen – where world leaders will meet in December to discuss the post-Kyoto (the international agreement on abating climate change) climate change agreement. The agreement will go into effect in 2013. Washington, DC – where the Waxman-Markey US climate change bill is under review in the Senate – is even further. Decisions made in both of these cities in the coming six months will, however, deeply impact the way of life of people in the Sheka Forest.

The people of the Sheka Forest are in desperate need of an increased standard of living. The developed world is just as desperate, so they say, for them to gain a higher standard of living. The developed world does not, necessarily, have any particular compassion for the people of Masha. Government cap-and-trade policies on greenhouse gas emissions will (and, in places, currently do), however, require corporations to offset their emissions. Some corporations and individuals are already taking pre-emptive actions to offset their emissions for corporate social responsibility reasons and/ or the fear that greenhouse gas emissions may reach life-threatening levels. The motive (legal, moral or other) for offsetting greenhouse gas emissions does not so much matter.

Rather, what matters, is that greenhouse gas emissions are offset quickly. An adequate portion of the revenue generated by selling these credits must reach the people on the ground. Otherwise, people living in the forests and along the streams will do what they must – clear-cut timber for income and agriculture, or allow investors to do so – to survive.

MELCA Mahiber, an Ethiopian NGO (non-governmental organization) focused on environmental and cultural conservation, undertook a conservation project encompassing three woreda’s (comparable to counties in the US) – Yeki, Anderacha and Masha – of the Sheka forest in 2007. The project entailed raising awareness, mapping, and alternate livelihood training. Officially, the objective was stated as such,

The overall objective of the project is empowering the Sheka community to actively participate in the decision making that affects their way of life, sustainable livelihood options and environment; and at enhancing awareness and facilitating advocacy at a national level through strengthened networking and community participatory strategies.

Initially, MELCA’s intent was to focus solely on advocacy work. They soon realized this was only part of the solution. Not only did local people need to be aware of their constitutional rights to the land, they needed alternative income options to slash and burn agriculture and clear-cut timber harvesting. As Befekadu Refera, program coordinator for MELCA, put it, ‘[Our activities] became wide and deep.’

One of the first steps was to provide alternate livelihood trainings. A few of the examples I visited included bee keeping and home gardening.

Ato Shariffo Abetto and his wife, Worashe Gamoo, have three lovely children that range in age from approximately 12 to 18. I enjoyed dinner with the family in their traditional style hut. The hut was well-furnished and their compound spacious. Though poor by any standard of measure, they were certainly not among the poorest in Masha.

Worashe received bee keeping training from MELCA. She now builds her own environmentally friendly bee hives which she uses to harvest and sell honey. Traditionally, bee hives were made of logs and hung high in the trees. Women did not have the strength to climb high enough to harvest the honey. Moreover, the log construction of the hives contributed to deforestation.

The bee-hive model introduced by MELCA can be constructed of fast growing, locally sourced bamboo. It is designed to be placed on a fence post – making it possible for women to harvest and manage the hives themselves. Worashe currently has nine hives that are producing honey. She earns over 4,000 ETB/ year (12 ETB = 1 USD) from the sell of this honey. She hopes to soon have as many as twenty bee hives. Not a bad start for an entrepreneur in an area as rural as Masha.

Another family I visited, of the Menja clan, sold vegetables grown in their home garden. Traditionally, the Menja people were shunned because they contributed to deforestation by harvesting and selling timber from the Sheka Forest and also ate wild animals that had fallen dead. After training from MELCA, they realized how important it was to preserve, for future generations, the natural resources provided by the forest. They also saw they could earn a living cultivating vegetables. The Menja clan is now known throughout Masha for selling top quality produce.

The forest, however, gains a new foe as soon as the last one recedes. Out of desperation, and lack of thoroughly thinking through alternatives, the government allocated 2,250 hectares of the Sheka Forest to East African Tea Plantation. After MELCA’s awareness raising campaign, East African Tea Plantation agreed to stop expansion clearing at 900 hectares. Now, the company believes they can expand by providing seedlings to local farmers with home gardens. Rather than clearing more land, East African Tea Plantation will purchase tea grown by the farmers in their home gardens.

There are more than a few problems with this plan. The first being, should the farmers receive a fair price for the tea they harvest, there is once again a strong incentive to clear cut the forest for cultivation purposes. East African Tea Plantation is simply shifting the burden and incentive to degrade scarce natural resources to the local people.

Alternatively, East African Tea Plantation controls the market. If the farmers choose to grow tea, they have but one buyer – East African Tea Plantation. If they are not offered a fair price, prospects of increasing their standard of living are dismal. Once again, there will still be an incentive to clear-cut the forest because a little income is better than no income, even at less than fair prices.

Outside investment is much needed in Ethiopia, but it should never come at the expense of a tropical rainforest. Without doubt, there is other, less biologically diverse land in Ethiopia suitable for tea plantation farming.

Investors should, nevertheless, always be required to adhere to strict environmental regulations. Opting for short-term economic gain at the cost of the soil, trees and streams of a landscape will only exacerbate both economic and environmental degradation.

One local administrator told Befekadu, ‘My grandma and family live in the forest in [a] dark area. We have no roads, schools, [nothing]. You people from Addis have children in good schools and you have power and live in a good area. You want this forest to be kept, but what do you pay for it?’

The administrator has a point; those who protect these resources must be compensated. Alternate livelihood trainings, based on sustainable and environmentally friendly methods, are part of the solution. But, investors will continue to encroach on the area. In exchange for a few roads, health clinics and schools the local people may sell one of the most intact and ecologically bio-diverse forests in the Horn of Africa. That is selling out far too cheap, especially when there is supposedly billions of dollars to be generated in the coming decades to conserve and protect natural resources that store carbon. In 2008, the value of all transactions on the global carbon markets was estimated at $120.19 Billion USD.[i]

MELCA is fighting the good fight, but more ammunition is needed. This ammunition will come from developed countries’ cap-and-trade agreements on greenhouse gas emissions. REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) projects, such as the Sheka Forest project conducted by MELCA, are expected to be considered eligible for compliance in both the post-Kyoto international climate change agreement and the US climate change law. This may provide further opportunities for people in least developed countries, such as Ethiopia, to generate income. Revenue generated from the sell of carbon credits should be allocated to improving rural infrastructure, and portions of it should go directly to the local people.

Organizations, such as MELCA, can continue to empower local administrators and clan leaders, lobby for stricter environmental impact assessments, provide alternate livelihood trainings, and map ecological areas. But, without revenue from carbon offset credits, it may not be enough to stem the tide of investors hungry for the virgin forest land and timber. Forests, if preserved and restored, have the potential to sequester a significant amount of carbon dioxide, and thus prevent the world from reaching unsustainable levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

The developed world must not waste any more time debating. Action is needed. REDD deals should be approved, incorporated into cap-and-trade laws, and then sourced. Least developed nations should receive priority for carbon offset credit purchases, specifically REDD credits. As illustrated, least developed nations are the ones most inclined to degrade forests for short-term economic gain. Finally, the payments must reach the people on the ground, the rural poor.

JTV
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Pictures from the Sheka Forest can be found on the link at the right, ‘Lamp Post Photos’.


[i] ‘Fortifying the Foundation: State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets 2009, by Ecosystem Marketplace and New Carbon Finance, pg. 34.

Preserving Culture and the Environment

Lately, I’ve been pondering the role of culture and its effect in cultivating a happy, lively and balanced society. Ethiopia, as many people know, is certainly not among the more developed nations – nor, unfortunately, even considered among the progressive nations of the developing world. Factors contributing to the state of the economy, politics and development may often seem above the level of influence of the average Joe – shall we say, average Biniyam – especially here in Ethiopia.

One thing all people can contribute to, however, is cultivating in the youth the many languages, dances, rhythms and rhymes of times gone buy and celebrating the richness of these traditions in the present. On Saturday I travelled with MELCA (Movement for Ecological Learning and Community Action) to a group meeting of SEGNI clubs from local public schools just north of Addis, near Menagesha. SEGNI stands for Social Empowerment through Group and Nature Interaction, and focuses on environmental and cultural conservation.

The meeting took place in Holeta, in a grove of trees set by the club’s members. The purpose of the meeting was to gather information from the various SEGNI clubs concerning the impact of their activities. It began with a prayer and then dance performances – quite impressive, might I add – by some of the younger girls. Following the dancing, a few of the students read poems highlighting the preservation of culture and the environment. Others took the occasion to express what SEGNI has meant to them personally. Some of the teenage guys noted that the club had transformed their lives. Previously, they were into trouble often and had little regard for the environment or culture of their community. After spending time in the woods, as required by the SEGNI program, they decided to refocus their energies on preserving the environment and their traditional culture.

One of the most entertaining aspects of the morning meeting was when the students performed a skit to illustrate how poor decisions by family leaders (in this case, the father) lead to the destruction of the environment, neglect of culture and ultimately tear families apart. The acting was superb – even more so when I learned they had just put the skit together that morning. The leading man was so animated I laughed nearly constantly.

The play began with the father instructing his son to come with him to cut down a tree, which they then sold to generate income, without bothering to plant another tree in its place. Rather than investing that money in the family, the father spent it wasting away at the local pub. Thereafter, the family situation continued to deteriorate as the father looked to the pub for an escape, and income dwindled because they had not harvested their timber in a sustainable fashion. Along the way, cultural education was neglected as the man’s son could not look to his father to learn the languages, dances and parables of his local people and other tribes and ethnic groups of Ethiopia.

W/o Amasele Kebede, one of the SEGNI club leaders, made another insightful observation concerning the impact of the SEGNI clubs on the local youth. She noted that many high school aged youth often neglected the teachings of their parents because they were obtaining formal education which their parents did not have. SEGNI, however, requires that all youths respect their elders for the real-life education and knowledge they have obtained. Furthermore, SEGNI encourages them to seek wisdom and guidance from those with more worldly experience.

The event ended with a traditional coffee ceremony conducted by teenage girl members of the SEGNI club and was hosted in a traditional style hut with thatch roof – also constructed by SEGNI club members. Outside the hut the students displayed native seeds they had collected from local farmers in order to catalogue and record the varieties. Additionally, they collected traditional handicrafts from the local people to include in their collection.

As these students work to preserve cultural traditions and the environment they are also developing leadership skills and a sense of responsibility. Their efforts will collectively aid in restoring an environmentally degraded country and in preserving the rich culture and traditions so much a part of Ethiopia.

 

JTV
Holeta, Ethiopia