While Lisa and Jordan had witnessed moringa processing in Ghana, for the rest of us it was the first time seeing it up close. To watch the fresh moringa leaves picked that very morning from local fields, then transformed into the powder that will ultimately make its way into our Moringa Green Energy shots was striking.
Over a delicious traditional Haitian lunch that members of the village had prepared for us (fried plantain, rice and beans, local fish), we had the chance to speak to several staff members of SFA, as well as some of the local women who are part of the cooperative. Ismail Clerjeune, the chief agronomist working with SFA, was able to help translate for us between French and the local dialect of Haitian Kréyol, and contributed to a lively discussion.
Ismail did his master’s thesis on moringa cultivation and then decided to work at SFA in order to share his technical knowledge with the cooperative farmers, ‘pour aider mon pays’ (‘to help my country’). In addition to his agricultural skills, Ismail uses his position to spread his belief in the value of moringa, which he calls ‘l’arbre de la vie’ (the tree of life), because of its nutritional powers and wide range of uses. He also explained what we were to see later in the fields, namely moringa’s agricultural strengths: its roots combat erosion in the fields, and when intercropped with the traditional peanut plants, it provides a constant source of income for farmers thanks to its quick regrowth (compared to the peanuts, which are harvested less frequently).
Moringa field near Desarmes intercropped with peanut plants
The conversation then turned to the social benefits of investing in moringa cultivation, particularly through the cooperative model that SFA advocates. Here, the men and women who work as part of the cooperative, and Madame Lalan (the local coordinator for AFASDA, a women's association), were clear on the positive change they had witnessed with the implementation of cooperative farming, including the cultivation of moringa.
Cultivating moringa has ‘grandement changé la qualité de la vie ici’ (really changed the quality of life here), Mme Lalan explained.
Madame Lalan, women's association coordinator
The cooperative model, which in Desarmes also includes a mutuel de solidarité (a community-based credit union), provides lower interest rates, which means it’s easier to start a farm or business. It also gives farmers ‘leur propre agence’ (their own agency), according to one of the women we spoke with, since the borrowed money comes from a community-pooled fund rather than a bank.
Before leaving Desarmes that afternoon, we presented the cooperative members with samples of each flavor of the Green Energy Shots. They proudly held up the shots for a photo, and Stacy Moore (Moringa Coordinator for SFA), explained to us that seeing the actual products made with moringa is immensely rewarding for everyone there: ‘it helps concretize their work, and inspires us to maintain high standards’, she said. As for us, it brought home the reality of how our investment in moringa affects this community, and the astonishing journey those leaves take from branch to bottle for each Moringa Green Energy shot.
Leigh Biddlecome is a writer and storyteller for small businesses and nonprofits. You can read more of her work at www.leighbiddlecome.com