Diffusion of Innovations Theory & the Miracle Tree

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Adoption of Moringa oleifera to combat under-nutrition viewed through the lens of the “Diffusion of innovations” theory

Melanie D. Thurber & Jed W. Fahey
Ecol Food Nutr
2009 May-Jun;48(3):212-25
PubMed Central: PMC2679503
Pods of Moringa oleifera in Panchkhal, Nepal
Pods of Moringa oleifera in Panchkhal, Nepal
(Source: Krish Dulal, Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and JHU School of Medicine review the evidence, pursuant to the diffusion of innovations theory, to support the adoption of Moringa oleifera as a nutritional supplement.

From the article background:

“Over 143 million children under the age of five in developing countries were undernourished in 2006. Food insecurity, lack of access to health care (including international food aid), and social, cultural, and economic class, all play a major role in explaining the prevalence of under-nutrition. The regions most burdened by undernutrition, (in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean) all share the ability to grow and utilize an edible plant, Moringa oleifera, commonly referred to as “The Miracle Tree”. For hundreds of years, traditional healers have prescribed different parts of M. oleifera for treatment of skin diseases, respiratory illnesses, ear and dental infections, hypertension, diabetes, cancer treatment, water purification, and have promoted its use as a nutrient dense food source. The leaves of M. oleifera have been reported to be a valuable source of both macro- and micronutrients and is now found growing within tropical and subtropical regions worldwide, congruent with the geographies where its nutritional benefits are most needed.”

The authors review the evidence for adoption of M. oleifera as a nutritional supplement in the context of the diffusion of innovations theory, which they describe as follows:

“What started as traditional practice and knowledge is being disseminated by international aid agencies, health care workers, and the private sector, to educate people around the world as a sustainable innovation to combat under-nutrition including micronutrient deficiencies. The “Diffusion of Innovations” theory explains the recent increase in M. oleifera adoption by various international organizations and certain constituencies within undernourished populations, in the same manner as it has been so useful in explaining the adoption of many of the innovative agricultural practices in the 1940-1960s. “Diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system…it is a kind of social change” (Rogers, 1983). A sigmoidal curve … illustrates the adoption process starting with innovators (traditional healers in the case of M. oleifera), who communicate and influence early adopters, (international organizations), who then broadcast over time new information on M. oleifera adoption, in the wake of which adoption rate steadily increases. To date, over 1100 people are studying, growing, using, or implementing M. oleifera programs. According to Rogers (1983), the rate of adoption and possibilities of overadoption can be predicted using five characteristics of a new innovation. In order for M. oleifera to be adopted and for its widespread use to be promoted, evidence must be provided for the following five attributes: relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, observability, and trialability.”

Reviewing the evidence under the five attributes of the diffusion of innovations theory, the authors find support for the adoption of M. oleifera as a nutritional supplement and recommend that “rigorous trials with human volunteers be carried out rapidly, and that the results, whether positive or negative, be disseminated in peer reviewed, widely accessible journals, so that they can receive the imprimatur of the world nutritional science community.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

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