Moringa tree takes root in Nyanza as farmers dump rice

Commercial cultivation of moringa tree is taking root in Nyanza as rural women come on board to add value to thousands of the plant they have planted in their villages.

Traditionally regarded as a wild tree and consumed by Asian community due to its nutritional properties, the plant is turning into a money spinner for small-scale farmers who are shifting from rice farming.

Jane Nyangota, a resident of Awasi, said that making soap from the environment-friendly tree has transformed her life in a span of six years since she ventured into the business.

She said that a friend trained her on how to make soap from moringa leaves at a small fee.

With modest savings of Sh2,500, Ms Nyangota, a widow and mother of six, mobilised women in her neighbourhood and formed a group in 2008 that has seen them make a profitable and sustainable source of livelihood in the once sleepy village.

Pundo Women Group, which comprises 25 members, has since planted more than 6,000 moringa trees.

Currently, the group produces up to 300 tonnes of moringa leaf powder annually as well as make, brand and package medicated soap for sale.

‘‘The moringa oleifera leaves are loaded with essential nutrients, far surpassing the vitamin and mineral content in carrots, spinach, bananas and oranges combined,’’ said Ms Nyangota adding that the tree also contains more protein and calcium than milk as well all the nine essential amino acids.

Also referred to as the Indian miracle tree or mother’s best friend, the plant is believed to offer health benefits and is easily cultivated in semi-arid areas, matures fast and is not invasive compared to other indigenous trees.

Besides its usage in making of herbal soap, the leaves also have a stabilising effect on blood pressure and control glucose levels. They are also used to treat anxiety, diarrhoea and inflammation of the colon, skin infections, scurvy and intestinal parasites, among others.

Benter Omusi, a member of the group and a small-scale farmer said: ‘‘Our major aim is to alleviate hunger and promote healthy living.’’

The venture employs 20 youths every six months to distribute seeds and educate people on nutritional and medicinal benefits of the tree.