By Ntsako Mbhokota
Limpopo fights hunger with Moringa oilifere, an African indegenous nutritious plant with healing properties. Hard at work behind this project are the women of Tooseng village headed by Woman Entreprenuer of the Year 2010, Mrs Mavis Mathabatha. From this initiative these women have not only earned themselves money but they are also giving back to their community through a child feeding program.
When the courageous Mavis Mathabatha received her first Moringa seeds in 2006, she only had one hectare of land which was also the space she used to plant vegetables. Armed with nothing but the courage and will to help her community, she went ahead and planted the first Moringa trees in the small rural village of Tooseng ‘Ga-Mphahlele’ in Limpopo. Renowned across central Africa for its healing and nutritious properties, Moringa has amazing nutritional benefits; it has 7 times the vitamin C of oranges, 4 times the vitamin of carrots, 4 times the calcium of milk, 3 times the potassium of bananas and 2 times the protein of yogurt. –This is confirmed by the research conducted by various research institutes of South Africa and abroad.
Three months after planting the first Moringa trees Mavis Mathabatha and her community were soon reaping the nutritional and financial rewards of this dubbed ‘miracle tree’. “When we planted our first Moringa trees I told the women of the village who were helping me with the farming that now we have a green platinum mine in our backyard” says Mathabatha.
The first research conducted on Moringa in South Africa was done by the University of Fort Hare in 2009; they took a sample of the Moringa leaves from the trees in Mavis Mathabatha’s farm to run tests. After the tests were conducted they confirmed that the special tree does have the benefits it is said to contain. “We do have other nine research institutions from South Africa and Universities from the US on board” confirms Mavis Mathabatha.
Mavis Mathabatha is a retired school teacher with the heart of an angel and the willing drive to help her community. Her dissatisfaction and concern with the mal-nutrition of disadvantaged children in her village is what led her into discovering Moringa. She started educating herself more about Moringa through an online programme from her mentor Lowel Fuglie in Nigeria, which helped her a great deal in terms of understanding the agricultural aspect of Moringa.
Prior to that year (2005) Mavis Mathabatha with the help of other women in her community had already established a community based organization called ‘Sedikong sa Lerato which its aim is to combat malnutrition and food insecurities. This project was started because of the alarming growing number of orphaned children in the village. “We found out that there is a large number of orphans and vulnerable children who are going to school on an empty stomachs, some are also going to bed without food. I decided that the model project that we operate must feed children with two meals everyday including Saturdays, Sundays, public holidays, and school holidays as well, basically every day.” explains Mrs. Mathabatha who is very passionate about community development.
Sedikong sa lerato feeds 249 orphaned an vulnerable children every day. Two meals per child and to boost the children’s nutrition Moringa leaves are sprinkled on their food. “Seeing the jobs created for the youth and women of our village makes me feel much fulfilled. Community transformation comes from within and also one must have the passion and determination for it” strongly asserts Mathabatha.
Not only has Moringa brought food and skills to the community of Tooseng but it also plays a major role in fighting HIV and Aids. So much improvement has been seen within just seven days of giving Moringa to HIV patients. As a way to encourage the well-being of the villagers the Moringa project has distributed more than 6000 seedlings to the households in their village and surrounding neighborhoods for free since its establishment.
Without any substantial funding these women of Limpopo have managed to offer courage and hope to their community. “We harvest dry and package the leaves from the project; -this includes intensive labor practices as we do not use any machinery to grind. We are using the traditional way of grinding (Thsilo le lwalwa)” explains Mavis Mathabatha when I ask her about some of the challenges they are facing.
“We do not have a proper structure for our orphaned and vulnerable children, caregivers are cooking in an open space and also children are eating under a shelter which is not user friendly in rainy and cold days” explains Mathabatha.
It remains a fact that women produce more than half of the food grown in the world but they do not get any agricultural funding because of the barriers they face including not having access to land, credit or education. The lack of funding should not hinder such a humanitarian programme, the South African public and private sectors need to step up and help such organizations.
Although they have received small grants from Absa and pick n pay who will assist with the de-bushing and fencing the 15 hectare land that the Moringa project obtained from the traditional head. A lot of challenges remain facing the Moringa business even in their new fam. “For Moringa we do not have proper machinery for agro processing (drying and nursery house) bore and irrigation systems. We managed to de-bush and fence the 15 hectare land but we have not yet started planting because now we are out of funds” sadly explains Mathabatha.
Against all odds In 2010 Mavis Mathabatha was recognized by the department of Agriculture and Farming as the ‘Woman Entrepreneur of the Year’ in the farming and processing sector. In the same year she was also recognized by Agriculture Writers of South Africa as New Entrant into Commercial Farming “I feel very humbled by the recognition” says Mathabatha.
Mavis Mathabatha has plans to expand their client base internationally, “so far they are exporting Moringa to Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. We managed to get clients outside South Africa through online marketing; recently I was in Indonesia on a Trade Mission and Chicago for EMIA (Export Market and Investment Assistance) and we are busy with branding and registering with proudly South African product certification, international standards. There is a lot of market internationally and are on the process of going through the necessary procedures.”
In a few years time, there are plans to expand the farm to have a world class agro processing plant in Tooseng village thus creating job opportunities for the youth, women and the public at large. To date the Moringa project employs 22 permanent staff, 30 other temporary people for de-bushing and fencing the new farm. The project hopes to employ at least 52 people permanently soon after they can start operating, “the laborers will be entirely from the village of Tooseng and surrounding villages” says Mathabatha.
The farm that they are currently operating from at the centre is too small and can only produces 10 000 tons of Moringa per year. This is not enough to bring back revenue that can build or develop anything for the community of Tooseng.
But that is soon to change with the opening of a new Moringa farm. On the 8th of March 2012 farmers, government officials, rural communities stakeholders , activists and experts in the field of food security and nutrition will gather at Tooseng village in Limpopo Province as Lammangata Moringa do the first planting of organic Moringa trees at the new farm.
Mrs Mathabatha is a true believer in perseverance and hard work and that is shown in her selfless work. Moringa is truly a giving program and should be implemented around other communities of South Africa.
“Negotiations are at an advanced stage to replicate the model project in other provinces. We made major inroads already in the six provinces and hope to start operating by the end of this year on a small scale” said Mathabatha
By Ntsako Mbhokota