The Miracle Tree

17 Aug 2011

“Without moringa there is no life” goes the saying of the Konso people who inhabit the lowlands of southern Ethiopia, expressing the ancient link that unites them to the Moringa stenopetala plant. Called “the miracle tree” in local language, is known for its capacity to withstand prolonged periods of drought. Its cultivation, intercropped with tubers, legumes, cereals and shade plants such as coffee, allows the creation of an agro-ecological system able to preserve the properties of the land and prevent soil erosion, with the construction of terraces, creating a unique landscape in the region. The Konso throw nothing away from this plant: The edible leaves are rich in protein, iron and vitamins, the more bitter ones are used as animal fodder and the seeds serve to purify water.

For its nutritious and drought-resistant properties, the Moringa stenopetala has become the object of a study that aims to extend its cultivation to areas affected by severe periodic droughts and famines. Tomorrow in Karat, Ethiopia, the first national conference on the cultural and agro-economic heritage of the Konso people will be held, “Konso Cultural landscape: Terracing and Moringa”. The meeting, organized by the newly-formed Konso Cultural Centre, the NGO CISS-Ethiopia and its local parter (Konso Development Association), follows the inclusion of this landscape linked to the cultivation of moringa as a World Heritage Site on the UNESCO in June this year. The conference is part of a series of initiatives at national and international levels that will focus on the moringa and the agro-forestry of the Konso.

The Farmers of Moringa Stenopetala of Konso are a Terra Madre community and participated in the 2010 Terra Madre world meeting in Turin, Italy. The Moringa stenopetala will also soon be a candidate for the Ark of Taste, Slow Food’s catalogue of quality, at-risk products, breeds and local varieties. Among the Thousand Gardens in Africa that Slow Food is aiming to create, five will be dedicated to the Konso, used as experimental grounds for the principles of permaculture.

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