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Cabbage tree research lands mentor recognition

“Winning the African Union Kwame Nkrumah prize means a lot to me. The award gives me a great feeling and validates my many years of my hard work,” says Yalemtsehay Mekonnen, a professor at the University of Addis Ababa. Professor Mekonnen won the award for her scientific achievement and findings that have contributed to the agricultural development of the continent.

Mekonnen’s research is focussed on a multipurpose plant, called Moringa stenopetala, also known as cabbage tree, whose roots and leaves are claimed to have medicinal purposes. “For 20 years, I’ve worked closely with my students and research collaborators to study the claimed medicinal uses of this plant,” explains Mekonnen. ““The outcome of our many years of research resulted in popularizing the benefits of this plant which the fresh cooked leaves are a source of food and its powdered dried leaves are used to fight diabetes and high blood pressure.” The leaves are a rich source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and vitamin E which are important nutrients for fighting high blood pressure.

“I have always liked the field of natural sciences,” says Mekonnen. “I scored very good grades in the basic sciences in my school years.” This motivated her to pursue science and obtain a BSc in Biology, an MSc in Zoology and PhD in Human Physiology.

As for the challenges faced in her line of research work, she states that being part of the Moringa Task Force, puts her in a better position to look at how opportunistic businessmen have been exploiting people. “I know that some individuals have put the Moringa product in the market with unjustified, and exaggerated medicinal uses. I want to contribute to the proper use of the plant product – for nutrition and medicinal purposes – and clear the confusion that emanates from uninformed promotion of the use of Moringa.”

“I hope winning this award will motivate other women scientists especially those who are early in their careers, that the many challenges they face as women should not stop them from serving their communities.”