Moringa stenopetala

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Moringa stenopetala

Shelaqta (Konso), halako (Gamo)

Moringa is a tropical tree with multiple uses and is resistant to drought. Among the 13 species known, Moringa oleifera is particularly easy to reproduce and its growth is very fast. The numerous economic uses of Moringa oleifera combined with its easy propagation have raised growing international interest for this tree which originated from India and is found in most tropical countries (Africa, Asia and America). Moringa stenopetala and other species from Eastern Africa and Madagascar also have a great potential even though they have been less explored so far.The species M. stenopetala differs from M. oleifera because of its composed leaves (3.3 to 6.5 cm) that have a sharper apex, its pods are bigger and twisted when the fruits are fresh, the seeds are ellipsoidal rather than spherical, and their color is cream rather than dark brown.Moringa stenopetala is endemic in East Africa, specimen are found in Djibouti, Uganda, Sudan, and mainly in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia, in Kaffa, Gamo-Gofa and Sidamo, between 500 and 1600 mt, in the Qolla agro-climatic area. The tree prefers well drained sandy soils, but as it is also drought resistent we can find the specimen both in wet and arid zones.Konso (SNNP Region – Ethiopia) is one of the main areas of domestication for M. stenopetala. The Ethiopian Konso people use different indigenous plants by planting them on their farmlands and in their living compounds for different advantages as discussed.Different parts of moringa trees are used in Konso as a food source (for humans and animals), as building material, as fuel source, as a shelter to other plants, to the people and to the farmland soil from the sun’s heat?and in some other purpose (ex for their medicinal values) etc.But it is certain that the primary use of the plant in Konso is the consumption of fresh leaves.?In Konso area Moringa stenopetala is widely grown for its edible leaves throughout the year from generation to generation. You can recognize a Konso settlement by the presence of moringa plants covering the compound, and protecting other plants from the burning rays of sun. The extension of the Moringa stenopetala outside Konso is related to the migration of the Konso people who immediately plant moringa everywhere they go to live. In fact the Konso people assure themselves against the risks of famine by planting moringa, because they know that it will provide enough vitamins and proteins to their otherwise poor diet.In Konso, the leaves are a constant ingredient in the daily dish damaa (in Afaa Konso, it is also known as kurkufaa in Amharic), constituting a major element in the Konso diet, and for peasants it is un-thinkable to cook food without moringa leaves. In the drought season, it is possible to cook moringa leaves even without any cereals; the Konso women will take out the leaves from the fire and cool them before rolling into balls after squeezing out the liquid. Konso people say, ‘If there is no moringa there is no life’; we may assume that the Konso culture as it presents itself to our eyes today, is the result of the domestication of Moringa stenopetala.?Because the wild plant is found in the lowlands extending between the Konso highlands and the Kenya border, where the nomadic pastoralist know it as good fodder for their animals, the origins of Konso culture are interlinked with the domestication of the moringa and its introduction in the highlands, once covered by forests.Nowadays the Konso territory is deforested with the exception of some remaining forests, preserved because under the protection of religious and traditional authorities. In all the terraced fields, moringa is present, visible due to its silver bark and shining light green foliage. Its presence in the fields absolves to a dual task: to consolidate the terracing and provide shade to the most precious cash crop of the highlands – coffee. In fact the association of the two plants, moringa and coffee exists only in Konso, it is a specific cultural mark related to the deep link between the Konso and their ecosystem. But the villages (Konso villages are old settlements on top of rocky hills, surrounded of stone walls and are thickly populated) are also recognizable by the wood canopy protecting them from the sun. In terms of numbers, the primary plant to be found in all villages is the moringa which assure shade and then followed by coffee, its best associated plant.Each family may own at least four good leaf yielding moringa trees within the house compounds and at least ten trees on the farmland on an average, for the day to day family consumptions. Any extra production of leaves are sold to other people who are in need to buy them. The sale can be made in the market or on any other convenient place.

Image: © Marco del Comune & Oliver Migliore

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