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Farmers in dry Makueni turn new leaf with Moringa

By Agnes Aineah
Apart from the nutritional and medicinal benefits, moringa thrives well in harsh climatic conditions. 

Some 250 moringa trees with creamy-white flowers sway in the afternoon breeze on some half-acre piece of land in Emali.

It is an amazing sight for Mbindyo Mumo who is used to a perched land whenever it fails to rain.

“At such a time when it is not raining, this land is usually bare and dusty. We hardly harvest anything from it. But with moringa plants, it has always been green,” says Mbindyo, as he plucks flowers from the leafy plants.

He intends to prepare the flowers for his evening meal. Mbindyo says fried moringa flowers taste like eggs when fried.

And it isn’t just about the taste. Statistics indicate that moringa flowers are three times richer in proteins than eggs and even meat.

He has also been harvesting moringa leaves from the time he started growing the crop early last year. A week before we visited his farm, Mbindyo had harvested a kilo of moringa leaves which he dried, ground into powder and sold at the neighbouring Emali market. From the kilo of ground moringa leaves, Mbindyo made Sh1,000. He sells some 400 grams of dry moringa leaves at Sh400.

And now, the father of 19 is considering expanding the crop to cover his entire two-acre piece of land overlooking Muuoni River.

He isn’t the only farmer betting on moringa in the perched area.

Some 127 farmers drawn from Emali, Mulala and others from the neighbouring county of Kajiado have organised themselves into a group called Emuka Moringa Farmers’ Cooperative Society and are growing moringa.

Emuka Moringa Farmers’ Cooperative Society, a project spearheaded by ChildFund with support from the county government of Makueni will see member farmers access a state of the art moringaprocessing factory to make value added products and access a ready market.

The county has already set aside some 75 by 60 metre piece of land for the project that houses the cooperative’s offices. It also has a temporary moringa factory where farmers showcase their crop to eager residents.

The wonder tree

The hardy plant, believed to have originated from India has been acclaimed for its medicinal value, high nutrition content and ability to withstand harsh ecological conditions such as drought.

 “We call it the wonder tree,” says Maclean Egesa, ChildFund Project Manager.

Mr Egesa explains that the drought resistant crop has a bulb where it stores food that it uses in the absence of rains.

Everything on moringa has some use including the leaves, flowers, roots, the young pods as well as the seeds when the pods are harvested. It is food as well as medicine and is also used in animal feed fortification and also in cosmetics. Dry powder made from moringa leaves is used as a water purifier.

The immature green pods are prepared similarly to green beans, while the seeds are removed from more mature pods and cooked like peas or roasted like nuts. The flowers and leaves are cooked and eaten like kales.

In herbal medicine, moringa is said to have antiulcer, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive, antioxidant, anti-diabetic, cholesterol lowering, antibacterial as well as antifungal properties.

Moringa leaves are said to treat asthma, malaria, flu, heart burn, syphilis, eye and ear infections, diarrhoea, pneumonia, scurvy, headaches, bronchitis, and skin disease among other infections. Moringa bark has similar medicinal qualities.

Apart from being used as food, moringa flowers are said to act as anti-arthritic agents and can cure urinary problems while the pods treat liver and joint pains. The pods are used as an anti-ageing agent.

“Moringa contains four times more vitamins than oranges, carrots and most fruits and has seven times more calcium than that found in milk. That explains its rich nutritional and medicinal content,” says Simeon Rono, an agricultural officer at ChildFund.

Apart from the nutritional and medicinal benefits, moringa has excited farmers in Makueni for its ability to thrive in harsh conditions where other crops perform poorly.

Beatrice Mutolo has harvested more than 30 kilos of dry moringa leaves for the six months she has been growing the crop. She tested the waters on a half-acre piece of land where she planted 500 moringa trees. And now, Ms Mutolo is weighing in on ditching maize which she grows on her three acres of land in favour of moringa.

“When it rains, I want to plant the whole three acres with moringa trees. I’ve seen that they fetch more money than maize,” says Ms Mutolo.

On average, Ms Mutolo harvests 10 bags of maize which she sells at Sh2,000 a bag. This comes to Sh20,000, an amount she says is way below what she makes from moringa.

Viona Mutua on the other hand has 230 moringa trees. According to Ms Mutua, the crop is the most rewarding of other farming activities she has engaged in.

“There were months I spent without making any single shilling. But today, I have something I can sell and meet my personal needs. I once made Sh6,000 in a single day from selling moringa,” says Ms Mutua.

Members in the cooperative are required to be residents of the wards and owning at least 40 moringa trees. Among other benefits, Emuka Moringa Farmers’ Cooperative Society members will have the advantage of selling their moringa products as a cooperative.

“No member will be allowed to sell outside the cooperative as this gives room to brokers who start exploiting farmers. Instead, we shall be selling as a cooperative,” said Pinochet Musau, a farmer.

Harvested leaves are washed two times. The second time, a little salt is added to destroy harmful substances. Clean moringa leaves are then dried for about three days in a shade to preserve their quality and the green colour. They are then threshed in a motor.

Moringa farmers in Makueni still use the motor and pestle to thresh moringa leaves.

But Emuka Moringa Farmers’ Cooperative Society currently being trained on value addition technologies on moringa will also access modern tools such as pruning saws, solar dryers as well as more sophisticated threshers to process their produce.

The farmers, also being trained on cooperative principals by the department of cooperatives in the County Government of Makueni will also access cheap loans to expand their farming ventures.

JKUAT experts: We need moringa to curb child malnutrition

Statistics indicate that some 26 per cent of all children below five years in Kenya suffer chronic malnutrition.

This is a challenge that can be addressed by embracing highly nutritious herbs, vegetables and plants that are currently relegated, in favour of junk foods.

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