For decades, people in the development and reconstruction world have told me about the moringa, a fast-growing tree from Africa (originally) that they hail as a cure-all for subsistence economies, and I mean cure-all.
This tree, they say, could — once properly established in target cultures — cure diseases, end malnutrition, and reforest the denuded hills and mountainsides in the developing world. It grows fast, so it’s ideal, they say, for soil retention in places like Haiti, where trees have been cut down and the top soil flows off to the ocean in the rainy season. Those promoting it have for years called it a miracle tree or the tree of life, or simply, a superfood. Working in Haiti, I hear this ritually, every two years or so.
The moringa’s leaves have extraordinary powers, they say.
Its leaves, according to these fervent proponents, relieve headaches, stop bleeding, combat infection and inflammation and fungal infestation. They also help with fevers, bronchitis, eye and ear infections. And they ease gastrointestinal upsets and treat diarrhoea. You can use them to deal with scurvy. They’re chock full of calcium and vitamins.
But that is not all the moringa can do, to paraphrase a fabled believer in superpowers. Oh, no, that is not all:
You can purify water with its seeds. If a nursing mother drinks juice from its flowers, lactation is improved. This juice also is a diuretic that helps decrease urinary problems. A seed concoction, spread on the affected area, can ease arthritis, rheumatism, gout, cramp, sexually transmitted diseases and boils. Yes, it’s true, according to proponents.
Of course the moringa flower juice is a remedy for the common cold!
(Toss away penicillin! Down with orange juice! Banished forever, milk! Chuck the aspirin…)
Don’t forget those astounding hanging pods, BTW. Eaten raw (you try!!) they can work against worm infestations in the gut, and also, eaten raw again, they help with spleen, liver and joint conditions. Because of their high protein and fiber content, they are useful for those who are suffering from malnutrition.
Wait, wait! There’s more.
Roots and bark. According to those who claim to know, these can be used to address circulatory and cardiac problems. You can (somehow) also take them to increase appetite or aid in digestion. A poultice made of these can help with kidney function.
And the tree’s sap can be used to bring on abortions and to calm asthmatic spasms. Oil made from the tree, it is alleged, can treat hysteria, as well as prostate problems. You can feed the branches to your livestock — if you have any.
In other words, problems in every vital organ, with the possible exception of the gall bladder and the pancreas, can be treated with concoctions made from this tree.
Incredibly, I have not seen any claims that it cures cancer or AIDS. (Wait again! a last look finds a website that says African AIDS patients have used moringa products. So cancer remains the final knotty problem… Maybe we need just one other tree…)
I believe in traditional medicine. I understand that many modern remedies come from or are based on plants, mushrooms, and other naturally appearing elements. I believe that traditional practitioners in places like Haiti know what they’re doing and in many cases their treatments work. They have a repertoire of remèd, from a vast array of plants, barks, oils, animal products, etc.
I’m not going to attack the claims for the moringa, because I don’t know enough about nutrition or medicine or botany to do that. For all I know, every claim made for the tree is true.
However, development workers have been pushing this tree all over the word, and have been getting cultures unused to it to grow it. And yet malnutrition persists at inexcusable levels and all the diseases moringa cures or helps abate do not seem to have slowed measurably.
Now today, proponents of the moringa miracle have decided to take a new approach.
If those who most need the claimed benefits of the moringa haven’t yet managed to benefit from its transformations, well, why shouldn’t someone take advantage of those benefits? And who will that someone be?
You and me. Here in the U.S.
Surprisingly, you’ll be drinking moringa from a plastic shot bottle.
That is, if you have a Whole Foods near you and enough to pay for one of these new boutique bottled drinks.
I am not making this up. Whole Foods has agreed to distribute a line of “moringa green energy” shots (2.5 fl oz each) — flavors: coconut lime, ginger lemon, and raspberry — put out by the Kuli Kuli Company (“a mission driven business,” according to its website.) Click here if you find this hard to imagine.
The idea comes from Lisa Curtis, a former Peace Corps volunteer. The running of this business, it is asserted, will benefit Haitians, and not only should we buy these cute shot bottles, but we should also pony up donations to make the effort work. Here’s a donation possibility from the Indiegogo campaign:
$5000 USDTRIP TO HAITI FOR TWO!Join us for an all-expense paid four day trip to Haiti to kick off our moringa tree planting. You’ll stay in the finest Haitian hotels and enjoy a guided tour from our partners, the Smallholder Farmers Alliance. You’ll take home all of the Kuli Kuli products listed earlier plus the memories from a once in a lifetime experience.Note: does not include airfare.
Anyway, it’s all interesting. Why would someone who wants to help Haiti be attracted by an offer to stay in its “finest hotels”? But who knows: they might be (at posting, though, no one had responded to this incentive).
I don’t doubt the good intentions of this Kuli Kuli Company project and its Indiegogo crowd-funding plan — although I do have political qualms about anyone who’s running a money-making business and promotes her work with this kind of picture:
Why is that appropriate? What is suggested by such a picture?
The money you and I spend on our Kuli Kuli Moringa Green Energy Coconut Lime Shot to save our kidneys, prostates, lungs and livers and to calm our hysteria and asthma, Kuli Kuli says, will help train Haitian women farmers to plant the trees and theoretically, those new moringa trees will be used to save the kidneys, prostates, lungs and livers of Haitians, too, as well as to provide moringa product for Kuli Kuli’s business.
If you live long enough, everything comes full circle! First USAID brought moringa to Haiti for Haitians. Now Haitians will grow moringa as an agricultural product for export.
Of course the Haitians, who don’t have a Whole Foods near them (the nearest is in Pinecrest, Florida) and who wouldn’t have the money for bottled, 2.5-ounce energy drinks anyway, will still have to spend precious time and limited energy to get nutrients and cures out of the moringa for themselves… if there’s much left after they package up all the stuff needed for our energy shots.
As I’ve said, for years, the tree hasn’t really taken off in Haiti, despite the backing of USAID and others, including, now, the Haitian government. Will the money you invest in moringa energy drinks and Kuli Kuli’s project to develop its business convince Haitians to endorse it fully, I wonder?
Will the capitalism of Kuli Kuli have a more salutory effect on moringa growing and consumption in Haiti than USAID’s ineffective but expensive multi-decade reforestation programs?
USAID’s program was ostensibly a humanitarian one, but also part of the exploitive and harsh American economic plan for Haiti of the 1980s and early 1990s. Kuli Kuli’s is a business plan with an very prominently featured a humanitarian/charitable overlay. Both are outsiders’ ideas brought into Haiti — not necessarily bad ideas, but hard to implant, both literally and figuratively.
When I see Kuli Kuli tell us how they will teach Haitians to plant moringa, I am reminded of the South Korean garment manufacturer Sae-A, which also has an interest in helping Haitians.
Sae-A (see my earlier post on their Caracol plant) gives Haitians very low-paying jobs in its garment factory. Kuli Kuli similarly will buy moringa products from its Haitian farmers, but at very low prices, you can be sure.
Sae-A should also have an Indiegogo crowd-sourcing campaign to finance its garment factory:
I think the electronics firms that work in Haiti should crowd-source investment support:
After all, any of these firms can claim — and they do claim — to be making Haitian lives better. Why shouldn’t we give our donations to them?
It’s the same thing.