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The pressing case for moringa

Leaves and seeds of the moringa tree are now in high demand in Kenya (KHDP)
Leaves and seeds of the moringa tree are now in high demand in Kenya

When Raphael Mjoba started his love affair with the moringa tree (Moringa oliefera), he was barely into his teens. Growing up in Taita Taveta in the Coast province of Kenya, his parents would send him to pluck the salty moringa leaves, which would be taken to Nairobi's Ngara market for sale as vegetables for the Asian community.

Now married and with children, moringa trees are still an important part of Mjoba's life. In 2007 he started making regular trips to Nairobi with moringa seeds destined not for the dining table but to be processed and exported to Europe, the United States and China, for use in the manufacture of cosmetics.

The qualities of moringa
Moringa oil is extracted from moringa seeds by cold pressing. The oil is pale yellow-green in colour, odourless, and has a mild nutty flavour. It contains antioxidants, is an effective emollient, and can be used in the manufacture of some hair and skincare products.
Before Earthoil set up a processing factory in Kenya, farmers in Taita Taveta used to export moringa seeds to neighbouring Tanzania. But overproduction there meant Kenyan farmers had to find a new market. The United States development agency, USAID has worked with the KHDP to offer extension and market information services to moringa farmers in the country. The programme is now working with farmers all over Kenya, including the Coast, Western, Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces, helping them increase moringa production and find new markets for the seeds.

Changing fortunes

In the late 1980s, moringa leaves sold in Nairobi for KSh1/kg although they are now worth around KSh10/kg. Twenty years ago, the family did not mind the low price, because moringa was a wild tree. "It was like plucking weeds off your land and making money out of it," says Mjoba. Only later did his community come to realise that elsewhere the tree is highly prized for its seeds, which can be processed into oil for use in cosmetics products. Little did they suspect how the moringa might transform the living standards of small farmers.

Earthoil Kenya is the main buyer of moringa seeds in the country. "By 2003, we were importing 90 per cent of our seeds from Uganda and Tanzania," says managing director Wayne Bharat. "Now, due to our partnership with Kenyan farmers, we have started to see local supplies increasing." Bharat believes that local farmers have much to gain from the export market for processed moringa seeds and the company currently processes a total of 50 metric tonnes each month - about 30 per cent of requirements. "We are going for a gradual increase now that local farmers are keen to grow moringa," he adds.

Branching out

Adding value to moringa leaves (Armelle Sauveur)
Adding value to moringa leaves
Armelle Sauveur

In December 2007, the farm gate price for moringa seeds was KSh30/kg and KSh40/kg when delivered to the Earthoil factory in Athi River, where, according to Mjoba, about 200 farmers from his locality delivered 2.2 tonnes of seed. "We grow individually but we have now formed a farmers' group to help us exchange ideas and take care of our welfare," he says. "I now have 236 trees but have planted 250 more because of the increasing demand. My parents have 1120 trees. One acre can take about 400 trees. Moringa farming has helped me to build a house, get married, educate my child and support my relatives," he concludes.

The farming of moringa for commercial purposes is also taking root in Nyanza province. George Okungu, agronomist for the Kenya Horticultural Development Centre (KHDP) in Nyanza, says the tree was first introduced along the shores of Lake Victoria in 2003 by people from Uganda, who spoke of its medicinal value. "The people in Nyanza liked it because of its aforestation value and farmers started growing 10, 50 and 100 trees mainly along fences." He continues, "Today, there are 71 farmers' groups, each with an average of 25 farmers growing around 100 trees. The trees are harvested twice a year and each tree can produce about 100kg every year."

"Farmers sell between 20-50kg of seed every month and, at KSh30/kg, this income is enough to take them through the month," says Okungu.

The future

Moringa leaves are becoming an increasingly important source of food and income across Africa (Armelle Sauveur)
Moringa leaves are becoming an increasingly important source of food and income across Africa
Armelle Sauveur

Growing moringa is now seen as one way of helping subsistence farmers make better use of their land and improve their living standards. Since the trees can grow in arid and semi-arid areas, and are able to withstand temperatures up to 40ºC , they can offer new income-generating opportunities for Kenyans living in areas regarded as agriculturally unproductive. The trees can be grown individually or incorporated into agroforestry projects because they help control soil erosion and create only limited shade so that adjacent crops are unaffected.

With demand for moringa seed in Kenya estimated at around 600 tonnes per year, much of which is met by imports, increasing moringa production in the country shows great potential for improving the livelihoods of smallscale farmers.

Written by: Steve Mbogo

Date published: May 2008


Have your say

I know and I grow moringa but marketing is a problem for mos... (posted by: Grogan Kinoi Mwambanga)

very good research on moringa, on the side of packaging u c... (posted by: Annie kamunge)

Hi, This is a very educative newsletter. The story of Mor... (posted by: Fred Otswongo)

You can also get moringa dried leave powder(organically grow... (posted by: Francis)


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