India’s ‘miracle tree’ finds home in Central and Eastern Kenya
Posted Tuesday, November 16 2010 at 00:00
Eco Holdings Organisation has launched a pilot project that will introduce farmers to India’s Moringa Olifiera tree.
Known as the Indian miracle tree, drought resistant Moringa Olifiera’s leaves are a super-food, its seeds are medicinal and used in purifying water, while prunings are used to make paper, all at a low maintenance cost with little tending.
Eco Holdings Organisation is working with 1,000 farmers in Ukambani, Embu, Mukurweini and Othaya where the firm sells Moringa seedlings and educates farmers on how to tend the tree for commercial benefit.
Moringa leaves contain four times the amount of vitamin A available in 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. Moringa leaves also have 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 that found in milk and eggs.
In India, the leaves are eaten in salads, soups and casseroles and dried to make drinks, delivering a near cure-all to the many health problems caused by malnutrition.
Delivers other products
The tree also delivers other products. Its seeds are used in India to purify water and in making oil for the cosmetics industry, with the country’s farmers produce and sell more than 1.1 million tonnes of seeds per year.
The tree also has agricultural value as it fixes nitrogen in the soil. The nitrogen generates proteins in crops, visible in the lush green appearance of the leaves. When inter-cropped with crops like maize, Moringa helps in growth, reproduction and yields. In orchards, the nitrogen it generates is vital for budding, flowering and fruit development.
When the leaves are mixed with livestock fodder, “they increase milk yield by 30 per cent,” said Collins Mwenda, who works with the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Kenya Institute of Research and Development to formulate rules and a structure to govern the Moringa leaf industry. The tree is suited for semi-arid regions, has a brown, rugged, bark and can grow up to 10 metres high.
In countries like India, the Philippines and the Maldives where it’s commercially grown, the tree is pruned to four metres high for ease of picking leaves and seeds. The cultivation is not labour intensive, requiring little manure and irrigation. The leaves can be harvested six months after planting. And “one shrub can have 20kg of leaf yields,” said an expert. Eco Holdings buys leaves from farmers at Sh500 a kilogramme. But the market for the leaves is not yet organised, said Mr Mwenda.
Kenya lags behind
Kenya lags behind Tanzania and Uganda where factories for processing the tree’s products have been developed.
One such factory is Optima of Africa in Tanzania. The seeds and leaves are used in the making of 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 crop pests.
For more information contact Collins of Eco Holdings at email@example.com
- African Laughter