In a modest, but cost-effective method that could save millions who survive on unclean water, women in Kirinyaga district of Central Kenya have come up with a way of purifying water using Moringa tree seeds, and are now offers the service to others at a fee.
Having long relied on expensive ways of purifying water, like boiling — which consumes large amounts of fuel — or synthetic water treatment products, the women had been looking for better ways to protect themselves from diseases.
And when one of them visited Sudan, she came back home with invaluable lessons on water purification from Sudanese women who have for long relied on the muddy River Nile for their drinking water.
The purification process involves grinding Moringa seeds into a paste, mixing that paste with untreated water, waiting for the paste particles to bind with the impurities and settle to the bottom, and then decanting or siphoning the pure water off the top. The purified water produces a 90-99 percent bacterial reduction and reduces ‘turbidity’, making water less cloudy.
The Moringa tree, sometimes referred to as the Indian miracle tree or Mother’s best friend, has long been known to offer amazing health benefits in its own right. Its leaves contain four times the Vitamin A of carrots, four times the calcium in milk, more iron than spinach, seven times as much vitamin C as oranges and three times the potassium in bananas, as well as more protein than either milk and eggs.
But its use as a water purifier amounts to a new bonus for one of the world’s most extraordinary trees.
The most common water purifiers in the market use aluminium salt, but have been beyond the reach of many households. However, the natural coagulant in Moringa can fully replace aluminium salts, offering a locally produced substitute.
Victoria Kamwenja is one of the women now working to spread the word on the water purification in training sessions.
“When added to water, the crushed seeds attract particles of dirt that are floating in the water, including certain disease organisms. The dirt attaches to the seeds and they fall together to the bottom of the jar. Then you pour off the good water to drink,” said Victoria.
“The dirtier the water the more seeds you will need”.
Together the women are now selling the seeds to other households in other areas after offering training at a fee. Susan Kinya and Anastacia Nyawira are selling the seeds in four districts surrounding Kirinyaga where the Moringa tree doesn’t grow. They package the seeds in quantities sold for Sh10, Sh20, Sh50 and Sh100. In a single day in one district, the two women manage to sell seeds worth Sh5,000 on top of the Sh2,000 that they charge for the training. They hold their demonstrations at rivers, such as the River Chania in Thika District.
“It’s a good enterprise that has been keeping me busy since I retired as a school teacher. I am now planning to be the sole trainer of cheaper ways of purifying water in the whole province,” said Susan Kinya.
“You see Moringa tree seeds are healthy, so when we were told we could use them for purifying water we had no problem because we have heard that our people eat them, unlike synthetic purifiers that contain chemicals,” said Mary Wambogo a farmer in Thika District who took the training and is now a supplier of the seeds in the area.
Research by Michael Lea a scientist at Clearinghouse, a Canadian organisation that investigates low cost water purification technologies, concluded that adding crushed Moringa seeds to water can cut the time taken for bacteria to settle from a full day to just one hour, and can potentially prevent diarrhoea.
He however notes that the seeds “should not be regarded as a panacea for reducing the high incidence of waterborne diseases” and recommends an additional disinfection process.
According to the United Nations, dirty water causes 80 per cent of diseases in the developing world, claiming 10 million lives annually.
However, experts say Moringa seed water purification should only be used at the household level as it can generate taste and odour if it stands for long before consumption in large reservoirs.
“We need the use of the seeds at household levels where water is purified and consumed right away rather than where it might stay long before being consumed and become unpalatable due to the odour of the seeds if they stay for long,” said Mr Kioko, a lecturer at the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Nairobi.