Innovators have begun a pilot project introducing India’s own miracle tree, the drought resistant Moringa Olifiera, to Kenyan farmers, in a bid to deliver pay-offs that include leaves that are a super-food (packed with nutrients), seeds that purify water, and prunings used to make paper, all at low cost and with very little tending.
Eco Holdings Organisation is now working with 1000 farmers in Ukambani, Embu Mukurweini and Othaya selling the Moringa seedlings and educate farmers on how to commercialise them.
Billed as ‘Mothers Best Friend’, Moringa leaves contain four times the Vitamin A of carrots. In Kenya, Vitamin A deficiency, which causes childhood blindness and suppressed immunity, is more widespread than in almost any other country in the world. However, Moringa leaves also 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.
In India, the leaves are eaten by smallholders in salads, soups and casseroles, and dried to make drinks, delivering a near cure-all to the many health problems caused by malnutrition. But the tree also delivers other by-products. Its seeds are used in India to purify water, and to make oil for the cosmetics industry, with the country’s farmers producing and selling more than 1.1 million tonnes a year of the seed.
The tree also has agricultural value, as it fixes nitrogen in soil. The nitrogen generates proteins in the surrounding crops, visible from the lush green appearance of the leaves. When intercropped with crops like maize, Moringa aids growth, reproduction and yields. In orchards, the nitrogen it brings is vital for budding, flowering and fruit development.
When the leaves are mixed with livestock fodder “it increases milk yield by 30 per cent,” said Mwenda emphasizing the leaves importance, also, in dairy farming.
The tree suited for semi-arid regions has a brown rugged bark and can grow up to 10 metres in height. However in countries like India, Philippines and Maldives where it’s commercially grown it’s pruned to 4 metres in height for ease of picking. The cultivation is not labour intensive, and requires little manure and irrigation.
The leaves can be harvested six months after planting. And “one shrub can have 20kg of leaf yields,” said Mwenda.
Eco Holdings is buying leaves from farmers at an average price of Sh500 a kilogram. But the market for the leaf is not yet organised, says Mwenda, who is now working with the Kenya Bureau of Standards and to Kenya Institute of Research and Development to introduce some rules and structure to the Moringa leaf industry.
Within East Africa, Kenya lags behind Tanzania and Uganda, where there are processing factories for the tree by products. One such factory is Optima of Africa in Tanzania. The seeds and leaves are used in medicinal and food supplements.
For all its benefits, however, the Moringa tree does poorly in chilly climates. And although resistant to most pests, it’s vulnerable to Diplodia root rot.
However, some studies show that its presence in any region reduces the general levels of crop pests.
Written By James Karuga for African Laughter