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Development specialists in Zambia are encouraging farmers to plant trees - the Jatropha and Moringa -- to help with their nutritional and even fuel needs. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Sanday Chongo Kabange in Lusaka tells us Southern Africa has long struggled with shortages of energy and food, and the malnutrition caused by the food shortages. But scientific studies have proved that a tree native to India, the Moringa, can reduce malnutrition, especially among people living with HIV.
The "miracle tree," as it is sometimes called, is rich in nutrients such as proteins, copper, sulphur, vitamins and iron. It's grown throughout the tropical and sub-tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Development experts are encouraging farmers to feed the leaves of the Moringa to their livestock. They say the leaves increase milk production in cattle and goats, and help improve the size and number of eggs produced by chickens.
The Moringa tree can also help improve the health of rural people.
David Mubita is center manager for the Livestock Development Center of the Golden Valley Research Trust (GART LDC.) He says "It is called the 'miracle tree' because [seed cake - when left to settle at the bottom of a bottle -- will purify water]. That is why we encourage all farmers to grow this tree. Not only farmers, even people in towns can grow them in the backyard and use the leaves for the family."
The Livestock Development Center is offering two Moringa seedlings to people living with HIV around the Choma area of Southern Zambia. It's expected that the tree's leaves - which have a high concentration of the micronutrient selenium - will help supplement their diet. They can also serve as a supplement to baby food.
People pound the seeds into powder for use in tea, drinking water, or stews.
Another tree, the Jatropha, is also being cultivated in Zambia. It was introduced into Zambia around 1850. It's thought to have originated in Central America and Mexico, where it occurs naturally in coastal regions.
Today, scientists and private interest groups consider multiple uses for the tree. It can serve as a windbreak, or act as a fence that helps stabilize the soil. Its leaves are used in organic pesticides. Oil from the Jatropha can be used to make lubricants, soap and cosmetics.
Jennipher Handoondo is the chairperson of the Zambia National Farmers Union's Oil Seed Commodity Unit. She is a single parent who has been growing Jatropha and using it to make soap for several years.
Handoondo says it provides an income that allows her to take care of her family and put her children in school. Handoondo explains that using Jatropha oil to make soap is cheap and easy, "Soap making is very good because women will be saving. Instead of buying soap from the shops, they will be making their own. Then the money they were supposed to [set aside to] buy soap they will [be used for] something else."
The Biofuels Association of Zambia is urging government to use Jatropha to help reduce acute power shortages.
Tyson Chisambo is the director of the group. He says it's helping smallholder farmers purchase new presses to expel the tree's oil - which can then be sold as an additional source of income.
"The rural dweller is disadvantaged in the sense that the further you go, the more expensive the fuel becomes. So we are encouraging people in rural areas to grow their own energy crops and set up small refineries to (help) meet their own fuel needs. We would like 90 percent of the biofuels industry to be in the hands of small-scale farmers and small-scale operators, because that will bring development in their rural set-ups, employment creation, poverty alleviation and electricity generation within a rural set-up."
Diminishing world oil reserves and increasing world demand has prompted businessmen to invest in Zambia's infant bio-diesel industry.
One such firm is Marli Investment. It is a private company that already has a Jatropha plantation in Zambia. Kamal Desai is the group's chief executive. "Jatropha oil is considered to be a [source] for bio-fuels as it does not compete with food security. It grows well on any land. It creates large-scale employment and prevents soil erosion. It can be inter-cropped with food products and has the potential to produce 30 percent oil content from seeds. And it also requires low maintenance."
With energy problems proving to be a challenge to many Zambians, scientists say Jatropha could make a major contribution to economic development in Zambia.