Chaya Project Tackles Hunger, Climate Change

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 6 feet, and up to 50 percent of its leaves can be harvested without affecting its growth.

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 droughtresistant 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. 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. e hospital averages 70 to 80 births a month, and chaya is prominent in Morgenstser's gardens. Each newborn goes home with a cutting from the shrub.

Adapted from an article by Kathy Gilbert, a multimedia reporter, UMNS

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