Moringa tree leaves help curb malnutrition

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Saturday, August 15, 2015
Moringa tree leaves help curb malnutrition
A woman discovered Moringa tree leaves in Africa that help curb nutrition and now she's selling the product in hundreds of stores.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Millions of people around the globe suffer from malnutrition, but what if the answer could be found in a tree?

One Bay Area company is hoping to bring nutritious leaves to the U.S. market by creating an economy where healthy food is needed most.

A group gathered at an Oakland office to coordinate a food revolution half a world away. "It is one of the most nutritious things you can eat," Kuli Kuli Co-Founder Lisa Curtis said. "Kuli Kuli is the first company to sell food products made with Moringa, so we sell nutrition bars and powders made with this green plant."

Curtis discovered Moringa while in the Peace Corps. "I was basically surviving off of just millet and peanut butter. A couple of the woman I was working with in the health center told me about this plant, Moringa," she said.

It made her feel better and it gave her the idea to pay workers a premium to grow Moringa for export and she could give them a good source of nutrition and provide jobs.

Experts call Moringa a Superfood. The Moringa trees leaves contain high levels of protein, calcium, iron, Vitamin C and Vitamin A. Moringa can be eaten raw or dried and made into a powder that can be mixed with other food to make it more nutritious. "It's got medicinal characteristics as well as being high in protein, high in a variety of other vitamins and high in highly digestible proteins, comparable to milk and eggs," Jed Fahey said.

Fahey is with the Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences at Johns Hopkins University and has been studying Moringa for 25 years.

It is so nutritious that many health organizations are now urging locals in developing countries to plant Moringa to curb malnutrition. "It's a tree crop, which is also a vegetable crop, so it's full of leaves and it's the leaves that that most people eat, although the seeds and seed pods are edible also," Fahey said.

Grown in areas near the equator, the Moringa's range overlaps with the same regions where some of the worst malnutrition exists.

The popularity of Kuli Kuli Moringa health bars and vegetable powders is increasing. They are already sold in 300 specialty stores including Whole Foods. Kuli Kuli expects to be in 500" stores by the fall.

To meet the growing demand, Kuli Kuli works with 500 women in farming collectives in Ghana. They grow the trees and harvest the leaves. "These women are making five to 10 times the average income in the areas where they live. Moringa is a very easy crop to grow, you basically just pluck the leaves off the tree it doesn't require very much water or very much care, so it's an easy way for them to make a steady income," Curtis said.

The operation is about to get bigger. Kuli Kuli recently received a grant from the Clinton Foundation that will allow them to expand their operation into Haiti.

Kuli Kuli's good work doesn't stop overseas, they have hired workers with the California Autism Foundation to help them process orders. The foundation helps people with autism learn skills they can use to find a job.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel