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Tree Of Life

Moringa is so much more than the source of a trendy beautifying oil. For the people of northern Uganda, this sustainable resource represents the future.

Jennifer Huxta

In northern Uganda, just off a red dirt road that leads to the border with South Sudan, Betty Acan, a member of the Acholi people, has managed to coax a living from the ravaged land. She’s always been a farmer—sesame, mango, cassava—but these days, she’s focusing much of her effort on moringa. “It’s amazing,” Acan says, plucking a slender seed pod from the branch of one of her moringa trees. “I cook the leaves with vegetables, and I drop the seeds in my tea. It’s medicinal.”

She’s not the only one enamored with these trees: The oil extracted from moringa seeds is prized for its beautifying powers and has made its way into many hair and skin products. But unlike palm oil, a beauty staple grown on vast plantations that have deforested more than six million acres of the tropical rain forest, moringa oil comes from drought-resistant trees that actually help improve the environment—and the lives of the estimated 1.4 million Acholi who live in the country.

Beginning in 1987, this region was ground zero for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conflict, which displaced an estimated two million people. Acan, 43, experienced it firsthand. The route she walked to school became a battleground for LRA rebels and government soldiers, both of whom harassed and killed many Acholi in the crossfire. “I saw dead bodies on my walk to school,” Acan remembers. “Every time we heard gunshots or saw soldiers moving, we would run and hide in the bush.” When her formal education was cut short because of the conflict, she and her family retreated to refugee camps in order to survive.

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August 2019