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November 24, 2020

Public, private varsities plan to plant moringa trees to curb malnutrition in rural district

Karachi

November 24, 2020

The Sindh Agriculture University, Tando Jam, and the Aga Khan University will plant 40,000 moringa tree seedlings in Matiari, a rural district in central Sindh, in an effort to improve the health of malnourished mothers, children and adolescents in the area.

Malnutrition is a major public health problem in Sindh with more than four out of ten children suffering from stunted growth, according to the National Nutrition Survey 2018. The province also has Pakistan’s highest prevalence of underweight children at 41.3 per cent and children suffering from wasting, or being too thin for one’s height, at 23.3 per cent. A poor diet is one of the key causes of malnutrition.

“Most poor families in rural Sindh eat a monotonous diet of roti and a single vegetable dish every single day,” said AKU’s Professor Asad Ali, who is leading the project on behalf of the university. “Moringa or the drumstick tree contains a wide variety of essential nutrients and since the tree can easily grow in dry desert-like conditions, it is a common sense crop for rural Sindh.”

Every part of the fast-growing, drought-resistant moringa, native to the Indian subcontinent, is edible and packed with nutrients such as protein, potassium, calcium, zinc, vitamins and antioxidants. The leaves of the moringa tree can be easily chopped and cooked with lentils or vegetables. Its pods, which taste similar to French beans, can be stir fried or used in soups. Better still, the roots are also edible.

The AKU, working in partnership with the Sindh Agriculture University, SAU, will plant a 40,000-tree moringa nursery in Matiari, easily accessible to the villagers of the area. Free access to the nursery will help provide families with a more balanced and nutritious diet.

Besides this communal resource, another 12,000 tree saplings have been distributed to households in the area. AKU and SAU teams will be encouraging families to use the leaves, pods and seeds to improve their diet. To help women cook healthier meals, a series of easy-to-follow video recipes have been made available in Sindhi.

“Although moringa is not new to us, we didn’t realise its benefits until the Aga Khan University team visited our village,” said Kabeer Palipoto, a 65-year-old resident of the village of Wali Mohammad Abro in Matiari, who has planted 20 saplings. “They briefed us about its benefits and showed us how to cook it with vegetables or meat.”

Moringa is considered to be one of the global superfoods: its leaves can be dried and turned into a powder rich in calcium, vitamin A and protein, which is packaged and sold at a high price in urban Pakistan. Oil from its seeds, which has similar properties to olive oil, also sells at a high price in the international market. In the long-term, the partners in this initiative will be encouraging villagers to harvest the moringa leaves and seeds as a cash crop.

“We will be teaching people how to plant and take care of these trees so that they can harvest them and take full advantage of the medicinal and nutritional value of the tree,” said Professor Muhammad Ismail Kumbhar, chairman, department of agricultural education extension at the SAU.

“The moringa plantation drive will benefit both the health of Matiari’s people as well as its environment,” added Professor Asad Ali. The university’s field research centre in Matiari, operating since 2003, develops evidence-based initiatives to achieve targets under the UN Sustainable Development Goal 3, which calls on countries to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030 and to address the causes of preventable deaths in newborns and children.

The moringa tree plantation campaign has been funded by the Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Fund for the Environment, a $10 million fund dedicated to practical solutions to environmental problems.