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Food crisis, energy crisis, development crisis:
Reconnect with Forgotten Crops!
Interview with General V. Lanata,
former Chief of Staff of the French Air Force
General Vincent Lanata, former Chief of Staff of the French Air Force and expert strategist, is convinced that agriculture lies at the heart of the global challenges of this century. A member of the momagri Sponsorship Committee, General Lanata has observed that new avenues are emerging, for the development of subsistence farming in developing countries in particular. He therefore wanted to speak with us about the cultivation of MORINGA, a crop that displays exceptional qualities in terms of nutrition, biodiesel production and economic development in general.
The recent food crisis reminded politicians that the Millennium Development Goals, in particular that of halving, “between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger,” remain far from having been reached. Close to 26% of children under the age of five remain undernourished in the developing regions of the world. Even worse, children living in the rural areas of these countries are twice as exposed to malnutrition as those living in urban areas.
It is therefore absolutely vital to encourage development of agricultural crops that improve food security while also serving as foundations for genuine economic development.
Much as the United Nations Development Programme, for example, supported expanded use of the NERICA (New Rice for Africa) cultivar, helping to improve food security and nutrition in such countries as Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria and Uganda, the international community would be wise to consider the multiple uses and properties of moringa.
Dominique Lasserre: You believe that moringa should be rediscovered, since this plant, mentioned as far back as the Bible, lines up perfectly with one of the main challenges of the 21st century, i.e., “produce more and produce better.”
General Vincent Lanata: Indeed, solving the “produce more while producing better” equation is essential for meeting food requirements and protecting the environment, as well as for meeting energy demand. The situation is all the more urgent given the fact that expanded production of crops intended for biofuels has, at times, led to instances of abuse. Crops intended for biofuels have been accused of competing with crops for human consumption, and have also been pointed to as responsible for deforestation. While this is not the case in all countries, particularly European countries, where these crops remain limited in presence, certain emerging countries may be affected.
One solution to this equation, of course, lies in agronomic research and exploration of diverse and alternative techniques. Faster and more straightforward avenues also exist, however, including expanded production of ancient crops such as moringa, which, unlike some crops under expansion today, has the capacity to meet energy demand in addition to displaying genuine qualities in terms of nutrition and economic development.
This tree of Indian origin has been attributed miraculous virtues, despite having been nearly forgotten! When located in dry and damp climates, it grows rapidly, at a pace of 3 meters per year. Its leaves constitute one of the most nutritious vegetables in the world. The tree’s leaves and fruit can first be harvested as early as the first year, even if the tree is located in non-farm areas exposed to drought, and subsequent harvests can number up to eight per year.
The tree helps fight malnutrition, because its leaves and fruit hold concentrated amounts of protein, vitamins and exceptional minerals (study by Ian Marison, School of Biotechnology, Dublin City University). 100 grams of fresh moringa leaves reportedly contain as much protein, vitamins and minerals as an egg, more iron than steak, as much vitamin C as an orange and as much calcium as a glass of milk.
Moringa leaves are also purported to contain seven times as much vitamin C as oranges, four times as much as carrots, and four times the potassium found in bananas. The World Vegetable Center (Taiwan) also reportedly declared moringa to have the greatest nutritional potential of 120 food crops studied.
The products extracted from this tree can also be used for the production of biodiesel and by-products for food consumption and cosmetics (its oil, for example, has characteristics much like those of olive oil, honey and ingredients used in l’Oréal products).
Moringa powder, furthermore, has water purification properties (a 2008 dissertation from the Université de Montréal purports that the powder eliminates 85% of nitrates contained in filtered water).
The tree’s leaves and fruit can also be used as ingredients in pressed cakes for cattle and poultry consumption. Moringa displays attractive fertilizer properties as well, as it naturally contributes to improved yields of certain agricultural crops. Finally, subsistence crops can be planted between moringa trees.
What I find remarkable in this plant is that it provides humans a source of nutrition and economic development, while also meeting energy-related challenges.
You can thus see why moringa is most certainly a model sustainable crop, since it simultaneously serves environmental, social and economic interests.
DL: How do you envision the development of moringa?
VL: The financial crisis, for one, along with the multitude of projects aiming to boost one agricultural crop or another, are certainly, it’s true, handicaps to expanded production of moringa, which currently is grown only in certain African countries such as Madagascar and Congo.
That being the case, we have nonetheless entered an era in which political leaders and manufacturers alike are aware of the urgent need to boost agricultural practices that are environmentally friendly and adapted to the needs of the poorest nations, rather than those focused exclusively on exports. What is more, manufacturers are increasingly required to report on the environmental quality of their production activities. Moringa provides a genuine future alternative to energy crops currently under scrutiny by some.
This topic is far from anecdotal, even though, for the time being, there has been little development of moringa production worldwide.
Numerous large-scale projects dot the international political landscape, but have not been followed up by significant, tangible decisions. This has been the case, for example, of the Millennium goals, one aim of which is to halve poverty by 2015. Few results have been recorded as yet, despite this goal having been reasserted at the FAO Heads of State Summit in June 2008, where President Nicolas Sarkozy additionally proposed a new global partnership focused on food and agriculture.
Momagri, which is developing thoughts on how to foster a new form of international cooperation surrounding agricultural issues, is also building tools to aid decision-making and guidance (momagri model and rating agency). Momagri is also committed, however, to granting prominence to promising initiatives for the future of agriculture and related considerations, with nutrition and global efforts to end hunger topping the list.
It is in this spirit that we opened our columns to General Lanata, whose work falls in line with our objectives and advocacy.
By Dominique Lasserre, expert of momagri