Using the Moringa Tree to Combat Malnutrition in Timor-Leste

27 September 2017

HIAM Health is a one of HART’s supported local partners, based in Dili, Timor-Leste (East Timor). Currently levels of stunting and wasting in Timor’s children under 5 years old is ranked third highest in the world after Yemen and Afghanistan. HIAM’s aim is to reduce childhood malnutrition sustainably.

In Timor-Leste there is either no water or too much water depending on the season. With 70% of the population living at subsistence level, what you grow has a very immediate impact on your diet. Many of the people live with little or no electricity and on less that USD$2 per day. So providing themselves with a balanced diet is mostly impossible.

HIAM Health’s Commitment to Tackling Malnutrition

In 2010 HIAM opened a residential, rehabilitation clinic for malnourished children. HIAM have championed education as an essential component of their strategy in prevention and treatment of malnutrition in Timor-Leste. For almost 15 years they have been empowering women/mothers by teaching them how to improve the nutrition of their families.

HIAM Planters
Women learning how to cultivate plants to grow food for their families

As children received treatment, mothers (and grandmothers and/or aunts) received training in health care, hygiene and nutrition (including cooking lessons). Women were also taught horticultural skills, and provided with follow up support to establish functional Home Kitchen gardens upon return to their village.

The ‘nutrition security’, crisis in Timor-Leste, however, far exceeded the reach of the rehabilitation programme. HIAM has now adapted its rehabilitation centre into a residential teaching and training facility. With a multi-disciplinary team of Timorese nationals professionally qualified in both nutrition and horticulture. HIAM now designs and delivers community education programmes on a variety of topics.

What are the benefits of the Moringa Tree?

Recently HIAM Health have been working on introducing the moringa plant, an internationally recognised agent in alleviating problems of malnutrition, to communities throughout the country. It has already been used to combat malnutrition in a number of different countries dealing with food insecurity including Haiti and Zambia.

HIAM have been focused on the moringa tree since early 2015, training households in the cultivation of the plant to encourage use in villages where malnutrition rates are highest. Enabling communities to provide for themselves, a sustainable supply of ‘Nutrition Security’.

Every part of the Moringa Tree, sometimes referred to as the “miracle tree”, is edible and very nutritious. It is full of vitamins, amino acids, anti-oxidants and contains high-levels of protein and calcium. It is believed to have the highest nutritional value of any plant in the world.  The most important aspect of the moringa tree is where micronutrient deficiencies are endemic (as in Timor Leste) is the increase in the nutritional value of the dried leaf.


 Moringa Leaf Benefits
The moringa leaf is full of nutritional value. (Source: Feng Shui London)


HIAM is teaching a cultivation practice that allows green leaves to be easily harvested, processed and stored without requiring refrigeration. Dried or powdered leaves can then be added as a supplement to basic food stuffs to ensure that the nutritional needs of communities, particularly those within the category of, ‘1000 days’ (conception to 2 years old), are met during the ‘hungry months’ of the wet season (when it can be almost impossible to grow a sufficient variety of vegetables to sustain a balanced diet). Dried moringa has a shelf life of 6 months.


Nutrition Security in a Jar

On top of the nutritional value, the moringa tree is drought tolerant and can be harvested every 40 days, making it the ideal plant for countries dealing with food insecurity.

Nutrition Security In A Jar
Dried moringa in jars ready to support families through low-yield times

Whilst it’s still too early to see the effects of the moringa tree on malnutrition rates, there are encouraging achievements. HIAM Health have trained and assisted over 130 households to establish moringa gardens and is now introducing moringa as a crop to Small Holder Farmers.  HIAM has also developed a 53 page manual in the local language, Tetun, on how to grow and process moringa. This book relies heavily on sketches to enable illiterate people the ability to be involved. HIAM has also developed 15 pictorial recipe cards on how to use moringa in daily meals.

Find out more about HIAM Health’s work here.

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