Country Impact 

Tackling Hunger, Climate Change with chaya plant

At any moment, Morgenstser Hospital has more than 30 “waiting mothers” in their facility. This hospital averages 70 to 80 births a month.Margaret Tagwira feels the heavy burden African women bear for the survival of their families.

Tagwira—an Africa University-based researcher, alumna and pioneer staff member—is spearheading the adoption of chaya, a nutritious and drought-resistant shrub from South America. She calls chaya, which is also known as tree spinach, a “woman’s plant.”

“Chaya contains twice the protein, iron and calcium of spinach and six times more vitamin A. Its leaves are available for 10 months of the year. It can thrive in drought-prone areas because it needs little water,” Tagwira said.

With large, maple-like leaves, chaya is a pretty plant with a compact growth pattern that makes it attractive as a hedge. It will grow to a height of six feet and up to 50 percent of its leaves can be harvested without affecting its growth.

With large, maple-like leaves, chaya is a pretty plant with a compact growth pattern that makes it attractive as a hedge.It is easy to grow from cuttings; just take a “stick” and plant it in the ground. It does need good watering the first few weeks but is drought-resistant after it is established. All these characteristics make chaya an ideal vehicle for addressing hunger, malnutrition, and the negative impact of climate change.

Tagwira has been strategic in introducing the plant, taking it to mission hospitals, orphanages and schools in parts of the country hit hardest by drought.

She brought 100 cuttings to her home village of Chivi in May 2016. By February 2017, the farmers had thriving, green chaya plants next to wilting and brown maize and grass.

Women farmers like Sarudzai Mkachana, a widow with three children, teamed up with other widows to grow and promote the plant. “Widows make the best investors,” Tagwira said. “They don’t have to ask a husband for permission to plant chaya in their gardens.”

Mkachana emphasizes, “As a Christian, I was proud to do this for Africa University, which is a Christian university.”

At Morgenstser Mission Hospital, about 38 miles from Chivi, the administrator and staff are all chaya converts.

“It is a huge task for women to get a meal on the table,” said Monica Nzaraycbani, hospital administrator. “It takes a lot of time and is long, hard work. They still have other chores like collecting firewood and cooking. They are exhausted.”

Morgenstser Mission Hospital averages 70 to 80 births a month and it normally has about 30 pregnant women staying at its “Waiting Mother’s Wards.” The women are responsible for feeding themselves, but patients and families can harvest food from the hospital’s gardens. Chaya is prominent in Morgenstser’s gardens and each newborn goes home with a cutting from the shrub.

Adapted from an article by Kathy Gilbert, a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service (UMNS). Photos by Mike Dubose of UMNS.