The "drumstick" fruit of the moringa tree is can be used to make an edible oil and is said to taste like green beans with a hint of asparagus.
Tolerant of drought and poor soil and fast growing, the moringa tree (M. oleifera) is a living miracle. Almost every part of the tree from the roots to the flowers is beneficial. It can be harvested as food, used for forage for animals, and made a water purifier, fertilizer, or a variety of traditional medicines.
And for the people of Malawi, this miracle tree is a way to combat malnutrition while strengthening food security, sustainable land use, and rural development.
That's why the Malawi United Methodist Church (MUMC) with the support of their In Mission Together partner, the Church of the Resurrection (COR) in Leawood, Kansas, have started a nursery of these trees, known locally as the chammwamba or sangowa tree. The churches are encouraging the people of communities throughout this southeastern African country to plant forests of these miracle trees to address two of the major challenges facing the Malawi people—poverty and malnutrition.
"If people add the moringa leaf powder to porridge or stir it into any other meal, they can prevent malnutrition and do not depend on food supplements," writes Mercy Chikhosi Nyirongo, MUMC's health coordinator in her blog, Wandikweza. "They become much more independent."
The flower of the moringa tree is edible and tastes like mushrooms.
After learning about the beneficial trees from June Kim of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the MUMC health ministry proposed establishing nurseries for and planting forests of moringa trees after they identified a need to find a sustainable project that could combat malnutrition in the country.
"Right now, the church is buying [food supplements for] our clients in the nutrition clinic," Nyirongo said. "These [food supplements] are becoming expensive, and moringa tree products will help in the prevention of malnutrition and other health-related issues."
The project, she said, is fully supported by COR, which is working with the MUMC to make the project a success.
The Rev. Cayce Stapp, Beyond Kansas City Mission Director at COR, said being In Mission Together partners helps both the MUMC and the congregation of his church. "Our teams will get to be part of the progress and will be able to see the fruits.
This is empowering the MUMC and building capacity between its leaders and its local communities.
"We get to participate in community together, pray and work together and build relationships," he said. "One of the things that's most exciting about the partnership are the ways capacity is being built and seeing the Malawi UMC and Malawians really growing in their self-sustaining ministry…. Lives are being saved and the community transformed."
He said being In Mission Together partners with the MUMC on projects such as the Moringa Tree Forest and Nursery "demonstrates for us who we are as the body of Christ together. We get to learn from our brothers and sisters around the world."
The overall goal of the project is to "prevent malnutrition through the promotion of moringa forestry systems supported by a moringa tree nursery," Nyirongo said. "Our long-term vision of the health ministry is one of a land dense with moringa trees [growing] anywhere we have our churches, sound health, and an economy which can provide for its participants."
The moringa tree is a powerhouse of nutrition, rich in Vitamins A & C, potassium, protein, beta carotene and iron. Almost all of the tree can be used for food, medicine or forage.
The goal is to "strengthen the structure of the community and the ability of its members to work together to resolve community health problems," she said.
To help achieve this goal, the MUMC with the help of the Church of the Resurrection has established model farms where moringa forestry methods are demonstrated. They will work together to offer workshops for the communities to learn how to grow moringas, and the MUMC will market the Moringa Nursery seedlings through advertising and promotion. Since December 2011, moringa forests are being planted in Zwaki, Nancholi, and Madisi.
"We are planning to expand to other parts of the country, including the MUMC farm," she said.
Though initiated by MUMC and the Church of the Resurrection, it is definitely a community project, Nyirongo said. "In all the three sites, the communities were involved in every step. They provided land and labor to the project. The communities were empowered and feel a sense of ownership. Training on moringa trees shall involve representatives of the whole community, who shall later train others in the localities. The project has an economic benefit as well: the communities will generate income to sustain the Moringa Nursery and start other projects, while also gaining recognition as a competent, forward-thinking group of people who are working for a better future."
COR and MUMC have been In Mission Together partners for two years. During that time, five teams from COR have traveled to Malawi to work and worship with their partner congregation. Together, the partners have worked on a number of projects, including support for nutritional programs and the distribution of tons of maize to drought-stricken districts throughout the country.
MUMC Superintendent Daniel Topalski has visited COR, and at the request of the MUMC, plans are in the works to bring Topalski and other Malawi United Methodists back for training, particularly in the area of agricultural development and empowerment.
The partnership, Stapp said, is an "opportunity to learn…and to be in community and relationship together through prayer and ministry."
Read more about MUMC and COR partner projects at the MUMC website.
Follow Nyirongo's blog Wandikweza to learn about the conference's health ministry outreach and accomplishments.
Learn more about becoming an In Mission Together partner church.