A new plant is popping up in school yards and gardens throughout Tha Thom District, Lao PDR. Moringa, also known as ‘Miracle Tree’ or ‘Drumstick Tree’ in some countries, is a green stuffed full of vitamins, minerals and protein. It grows rapidly, producing lush, tender leaves the size of a penny, year round. In rural Laos, Moringa is especially noteworthy as a vegetable in the rainy season when other greens from the garden and market are scarce. Moringa is great because all parts of the plant can be eaten: leaves, flowers, young seed pods, and roots.
Because it is so rich in vitamins and protein, many organizations promote Moringa as a food for the sick or infants. Many local Lao people know Moringa as a medicinal tea from Vietnam sold at a premium. “Really it is great for everyone to eat!” comments Jeffrey Knisely, MCC Community Health Promoter, “MCC staff in Laos are trying to promote it as more than medicine, but as a nutritious vegetable that can be eaten every day.”
Though Moringa traces its origin from Northern India, its fame has spread across the globe. Moringa is quickly growing in popularity in Lao PDR, because it’s easily incorporated into the traditional Lao diet. Customarily a meal is accompanied by a plate of steamed or raw vegetable greens. Other local people have commented Moringa is very good with their meat salad (laap) or boiled in fish soup. Locals love the mildly spicy flavor the leaves add to their favorite dishes. Jeffrey Knisely sums it up, “What makes Moringa a great vegetable is that it is new, but not foreign to the Lao diet.”
In December 2012, MCC Food Security and Nutrition Project in Tha Thom District gave twenty seedlings to each local primary school, as part of the school garden activity. Along with the seedlings, schools received an informational pamphlet introducing Moringa. Extra seedlings were given in 2013 to national MCC staff, district partners and other interested people in the community.
MCC staff started working with Moringa in 2011 by giving each school five seedlings. During this trial, it was found that Moringa grew very well in the warm Lao climate, but many seedlings died due to poor management and pests. Despite these problems schools were very eager to receive more Moringa seedlings, and fix the problems from the previous year.
Before receiving the tender Moringa saplings, schools were required to dig good holes, use compost and build fences for each seedling. One school in Khonsana Village took it a step further and assigned one or two students to care for each seedling. Seedlings were planted in rows on a hillside and each tree was surrounded by a simple, but functional chicken-proof fence.
Introducing a new plant in the school yard offers special benefits not only to the school, but to the whole community. While the students may not benefit directly from eating the leaves on a regular basis, they experience how to care for a tree, and learn the value of it as a vegetable. When the tree is larger, cuttings can be taken and grown at students’ homes. In the meantime, teachers, some who reside in the school compound, will be able to incorporate this vegetable into their eating habits.
“We are excited to see this wonderful tree take root in this part of Laos,” shares Jeffrey Knisely. “It’s easy to grow, easy to eat and packed full of nutrients.” MCC hopes that this new nutritious vegetable will continue to be embraced by the local community and that seeds and cuttings can be passed along to others.