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Demand spikes as bitter melon linked to cancer cure

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Kenyan farmers growing bitter melon stand a chance to benefit from better prices in the global market, thanks to the high demand sparked by recent research claiming that its juice can destroy cancer cell lines by 90-98 per cent.
The cucumber like vegetable-fruit, with an extremely bitter taste is mostly consumed by the Indian community in the country and a piece retails for KSh10 at Ngara and City Park market,  according to the National Farmers Information Service (NAFIS).

Pancreatic cancer

Bitter melon, also known as Goya or Karela, has for a long time been used by people around the globe to treat various health conditions, and recent findings by the Nevada Center of Alternative and Anti Aging Medicine says that 5 per cent solution of bitter melon juice can destroy up to 98 per cent pancreatic cancer cells, prompting a sharp increase in demand for the vegetable. Another study by the University of Colorado found that the bitter melon solution showed a reduction of 64 per cent in the size of pancreatic tumors.

The super medicinal value of this vegetable has seen its demand increase by 41 and 20 per cent in Europe and US market which normally mostly rely on imports from Asia. According to the 2013 Bitter guard Status report by the International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics, the global market for herbal products is expected to reach $5 trillion by the year 2050 with Aloe Vera and bitter lemon products commanding almost 50 per cent of the total market share.

Global production

Currently, Asia produces 75 per cent of the global bitter melon with India leading with 31 per cent followed by China and Pakistan at 22 and 9 per cent respectively. Others include Vietnam at 6 per cent; Philippines 4 per cent While Indonesia and Thailand produce 2 and 1 per cent into the global market. Where as bulk of these vegetable is grown in Asia, the ICRISAT report show that most of it is used domestically, leaving very little for the external market.

Yield and production estimate

Generally, this crop thrives in hot and humid climate areas with well-drained soil with a pH ranging from 5.5 to 6.7. The crop matures after three months from planting time and produces 21 tonnes per acre on average with a gross income of $2740. The international Bitter Melon Council estimates the total production cost of this crop to be $653 per acre.

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