Rokiatou Traoré discovere the benefits of Moringa while living in Türkiye. Photo:  Rokiatou Traoré

By Firmain Eric Mbadinga

Its leaves are packed with vitamins and minerals, its seeds contain healthy fats, protein, and antioxidants, and its roots are used for medicinal purposes.

Its bark is known to harbour bioactive compounds. Its crushed seeds can clarify turbid water by binding impurities and allowing them to settle.

The best part? The tree grows rapidly, making it an excellent resource for reforestation and sustainable agriculture. Its ability to thrive in arid conditions is an added asset in drought-prone regions like those in Africa.

Not for nothing is Moringa oleifera or the drumstick plant, a species native to the Indian subcontinent, acknowledged as the "miracle tree".

For Malian entrepreneur Rokiatou Traoré, the revelation about moringa's manifold attributes came when she lived with her late husband in Türkiye nearly ten years ago.

"I did some research and discovered that moringa is beneficial for the environment, the community, and health in general," the 32-year-old recounts to TRT Afrika.

"My husband and I wanted to return home with a project capable of creating economic benefits for women while also having an environmental impact in combating desertification, deforestation, and climate change. Moringa fitted the bill."

Rakitaou's moringa project helps combat desertification, deforestation and climate change. Photo: Rakitaou        

Start-up for change

Rokiatou's Herou Alliance, which has branded itself as an "inclusive moringa value chain for economic, environmental and social impact", focuses on creating plantations and utilising the leaves to make food and other items with health benefits.

'"Being out in the field, I see every day the effects of the rapid advance of the desert and its impact on the environment and productivity," explains Rokiatou.

Migration is another consequence. More and more women are deciding to migrate to other places to work and live as desertification destroys agriculture and raises temperatures in their areas.

"Economic activity in certain agricultural areas of Mali has dipped," Rokiatou tells TRT Afrika.

Herou Alliance seeks to balance business and ecological equilibrium through reforestation. The start-up aims to expand across the Sahel region.

To give shape to the project, Rokiatou and her husband, who died just a few months after launching the venture, chose the commune of Koulikoro, which has a population of around 18,000.

Every aspect was carefully considered for the launch of Herou Alliance in 2020, from technical equipment to practical support and the exchange of ideas.

The presentation of this tree's benefits and economic and environmental significance was a key point in the discussions with the residents of this mainly rural community.

'"Among the experts we consulted was a gentleman who had built his house, got married, had children, bought his car and made investments by selling moringa. So, all these workshops enabled the women to fully understand and adopt our model for exploiting this tree," says Rokiatou.

Herou Alliance processes moringa into infusions, powders, soaps and other products. Photo: Rakiatou

Sustainable practices

Herou Alliance processes moringa into infusions, powders, soaps, oils, spices, honey, and baby porridge, all sold in national, regional, and international markets.

Women, who make up the bulk of the workforce on the plantation, have been trained in the techniques of growing, maintaining, and harvesting the leaves. In the first year, 5,000 moringa trees were planted on a five-hectare field.

"The Malian minister of employment and vocational training at the time came with his team to plant the first moringa trees. It was a memorable event on August 18, 2020," recalls Rokiatou.

Personal setback

In November of the same year, after the death of her husband, Rokiatou went through a period of turmoil that affected the business, too. Fortunately for her and the dozens of people she employs, family and friends helped her stay afloat.

Shortly afterwards, the young entrepreneur embarked on a journey of building skills through training courses.

"Since my husband had financed all activities till he was there, I suddenly found myself without the resources to continue our business and associated activities. That's when I started applying to international funding programmes, including the Tony Elumelu Foundation," says Rokiatou.

The foundation, which ran a US $2,500 funding programme, picked her and Herou Alliance was back on track.

Rokiatou's entrepreneurial spirit has since garnered growing admiration from the public, authorities, and non-governmental organisations. Her numerous awards include being named Green Ambassador for Climate in Africa and "Land Hero" by the United Nations on World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.

Herou Alliance trains women in growing and harvesting moringa. Photo: Rakiatou

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TRT Afrika