‘L’arbre de la vie’ — Moringa Farming in Rural Haiti Kuli kuli in Haiti, Part 2

After our visit to Jaden Tap Tap, we continued on to Desarmes, a rural community three hours north of Port-au-Prince. The village is home to the moringa processing center which provides us with our Haitian moringa, and belongs to a farming cooperative supported by the Smallholder Farmer’s Alliance (SFA). SFA, our partner in Haiti, works with us to source moringa from cooperatives, ensuring farmers receive a fair price for their product and also helping them develop the moringa processing facilities to meet Kuli Kuli’s quality standards.

- Leigh Biddlecome

For the women that grow moringa in the most distant villages from Desarmes, the working day begins at dawn: picking moringa leaves in the faintest early light, rowing the branch-filled baskets across the lake as the sun rises, then carrying them on foot another several miles to reach the processing center. The rarity — and expense — of motorized transport and gasoline means these treks are common to much of rural Haiti, and yet the women regularly make these journeys since same-day harvest is crucial for the quality of the final moringa powder (the leaves wither quickly in the tropical air).

Soon after arriving at Desarmes, we were given a tour of the moringa processing facilities that were recently renovated with the support of SFA. There, we saw what happens to those baskets of leafy moringa once they are dropped off in the morning: in the first building, several women methodically stripped off the leaves from the branches and arranged the leaves on trays to remove any lingering twigs (and to prepare them for drying). Then, they transferred the trays one by one into the next building, where the moringa leaves get washed, dried, and processed into powder.

Women processing moringa leaves in the Desarmes cooperative

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

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Leigh Biddlecome

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