Moringa – The Miracle Tree

 

Unpruned Moringa oleifera tree

Moringa oleifera Tree
Discovery Harbour, Hawaii
Photo © Edward Rau
Use licensed CC BY-SA

Moringa oleifera, referred to in English as the horseradish tree, drumstick tree or simply “moringa” is native to the southern foothills of the Himalayas in northwestern India, and widely cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas. It probably has more uses than any other tree species so it has also been referred to as the miracle tree. Its young seed pods, flowers and leaves are highly nutritious and used as vegetables and fodder for livestock; it has numerous medicinal uses; juices extracted from the leaves and stems can be used as an organic insecticide and plant growth stimulant, and in hand washing; the seeds yield a valuable, high quality oil that is edible and used as in cosmetics, lubricants and as a biofuel; the seed cake residue from oil production can be used for water purification; and the trees are used to control erosion, as fences and windbreaks.

Moringa is fast growing, tolerant of multiple soil types, drought tolerant, can be grown in many dry regions without irrigation and fertilization, and continues to produce edible leaves during dry seasons when other crops may be unproductive. It is also well suited to growing in areas with depleted soils, an excellent choice for intercropping, agroforestry and permaculture and can be grown as an annual or perennial plant. Refer to the Wikipedia article on Moringa oleifera for additional information about this tree.


Moringa oleifera Flowers

Moringa oleifera Flowers
Discovery Harbour, Hawaii
Photo © Edward Rau, Sustainable Bioresources, LLC
Use licensed CC BY-SA

Clump of Moringa oleifera Pods on tree at Discovery Harbour, Hawaii

Clump of Moringa oleifera Pods
Discovery Harbour, Hawaii
Photo © Edward Rau
Use licensed CC BY-SA

Seeds of Moringa oleifera

Seeds of Moringa oleifera
Photo © Edward Rau, Sustainable Bioresources, LLC
Use licensed CC BY-SA


Other Species of Moringa

Moringa oleifera, which we will refer to hereafter as Indian moringa is one of 13 generally recognized species in the genus Moringa, the only genus in the plant family Moringaceae, sometimes referred to as the bottle tree family:

  • Moringa arborea
  • Moringa borziana
  • Moringa concanensis (Nimmo, Konkan Moringa)
  • Moringa drouhardii (Bottle tree)
  • Moringa hildebrandtii (Hildebrandt’s moringa)
  • Moringa longituba
  • Moringa oleifera (Horseradish tree, Drumstick tree, Indian moringa)
  • Moringa oleifera, Varieties and Ecotypes 
  • Moringa ovalifolia (Phantom tree)
  • Moringa peregrina (Ben oil tree, Arabian moringa)
  • Moringa pygmaea
  • Moringa reave
  • Moringa ruspoliana
  • Moringa stenopetala (Cabbage tree, Mother’s helper)

While Indian moringa is the most widely cultivated species of moringa we believe that another African species, Moringa stenopetala, the cabbage tree has better growth and form characteristics and can produce significantly more leaf material than Indian moringa. 

 

Leaf-Comparison-M.-oleifera-vs.-M.-stenopetala

Leaf comparison of Moringa stenopetala (left) and Moringa oleifera (right) grown in Hawaii

 

 

Overview of Our Moringa Research and Development Projects

 

Assistance to NGOs

We encourage nongovernmental organizations to improve awareness of the benefits of growing moringa to the people they serve and have provided technical assistance to them in developing moringa projects in Central America and Africa.

Most of our recent work as been with the Able and Willing International Education Foundation (AWIEF), a grassroots nonprofit organization headquartered in Frederick, Maryland that is dedicated to establishing schools and improving health and nutrition in areas of Africa in extreme poverty and need.  Mbuyu WaMbuyu (aka,”Puma”), AWIEF founder and president, was introduced to moringa by Ed Rau, owner of Sustainable Bioresources, LLC in 2010 and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation church of Frederick subsequently purchased 1500 moringa seeds for donation to AWIEF and starting the first field trials. Shortly thereafter AWIEF began to establish Moringa for Health projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Cameroon intended to produce highly nutritious moringa leaves and leaf powder for use in programs for severely malnourished children. Experience from other projects indicated that it one plan could not be adopted for all areas and that individual plans adapted to best-fit local needs, cultures, resources and business practices would be needed. These plans are summarized and available at these links:

Congo PlanUsing Scouts to Educate and Engage Families. Birds consumed the first field plantings in the Congo so an alternate approach to growing moringa had to be developed. Puma arranged for local families to plant and tend the moringa near their homes where better control of birds may be possible.  Key to this plan was one of the student aid programs that Puma implemented many years ago.  It is called Scouting For Education, a work and study program where students over 12 years can earn tuition, shoes and books while learning.  During summer vacation, students help on school construction projects while camping on site.  In the evenings they do academic projects and impromptu performances around the campfire.

After meeting with each family to explain the Moringa project, the students in the Scouting for Education Program will be given Moringa seeds.  They will be instructed how to plant, tend, harvest, process, use and market the moringa. Puma also arranged for a biologist at the University of Lubumbashi to oversee the project.

Puma-with-Moringa-Seedlings-in-Congo

Puma with Moringa Seedlings in the Congo

Mali PlanA Clinic-Based Program. The goals of this program are to educate the people of Mali on the benefits of using moringa and to conduct a demonstration project through a clinic based program. The educational program demonstrates how moringa can improve people’s health and nutrition by incorporating it into their daily diet. To demonstrate the powerful health benefits, Mamadou, the project leader has been working with the local Centre de Santé de Manabougou medical facility to treat the rampant malnutrition that is prevalent among children under five. The health center supports the community of Manabougou and the surrounding small villages. Moringa for Health in Mali will also encourage the growth and cultivation of the trees by local farmers.

Cameroon PlanSocial Media Campaign and Development of Grower Cooperatives. The goals of the Cameroon Plan lead by Richard Emeni are to provide educational information on moringa, develop a moringa industry and organize a group of families in the western part of Cameroon to grow, distribute and share profits from moringa using a type of cooperative known as Ndjangi, a traditional social system for accessing land, labor and capital. The educational campaign will involve social media, direct mail literature, newsletters, videos, interviews and testimonials to schools, churches and marketing at the point of sale.

Of the AWIEF moringa projects the project project at Manabougou, Mali near the Niger River and about 60 kilometers from Bamako, the capital city is the farthest along, continuing to expand and demonstrates the great potential of moringa to improve health, save lives and provide a new crop for sustainable agriculture. Since it was established 41 malnourished children have been enrolled in the clinic based program and health of the children greatly has improved greatly. For example, one 22 month old, severely malnourished child weighing only 16.5 pounds and 10 months behind the three-percentile growth curve was enrolled in the program. She had no appetite or energy, difficulty walking and her parents felt hopeless. After one year on the program’s regimen of moringa powder she weighed 24 pounds placing her just one month behind the 3-percentile curve. She now walks, runs, laughs, has a good appetite, looks pretty and has good hair color.

Another indicator of the success of this program is the level of approval and praise of the program by the health technicians, mothers and the children. The technicians report that the mothers are keeping to the powder distribution schedules and are glad to avoid the long trip to obtain the other dietary supplements that the children often rejected. The children say that they love the moringa “health powder”.

For more information about the Mali program, project photos and follow the progress of the program please see AWIEF’s newsletters from December 2012 Spring 2013, May 2013 , Fall 2013 and Fall 2014. Perhaps the best news was in AWIEF’s Spring 2015 newsletter. Here Mamadou reports that there is now sufficient demand for his moringa powder that he can market a portion of his current crop to pay for improving his farming operation and support more treatment programs for children’s health – the program is becoming self-supporting. Congratulations to Mamadou and his helpers for this great accomplishment!

 

Expanding Cultivation and Uses of Moringa in Hawaii

Current Status.  Cultivation of moringa in Hawaii is currently on a small scale and mostly for home use and sales at local farmers markets. Production for commercial distribution on the U.S. mainland and abroad is very limited and constrained by several factors:

  • High shipping and labor costs.
  • Persishability of fresh moringa products such as leaves and pods.
  • Lack of consumer awareness of moringa in the U.S.
  • Lower costs of  production and proximity of growing areas in international markets where moringa is routinely consumed,
  • Lack of processing facilities for production of higher value, nonperishable moringa products.
  • Quarantine restrictions. Federal quarantine regulations restrict the movement of fruit and vegetables products to destinations outside Hawaii and moringa pods must be irradiated before release on the mainland to prevent entry of fruit flies. The process is expensive for growers to perform. Recent research conducted by the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii indicates that the pods may not serve as hosts for tephritid fruit flies so some relief from quarantine and irradiation requirements for the pods may be possible.

Vision.  We believe that moringa has great potential for expansion as a major crop in Hawaii even if the prospects for export and use of fresh moringa products outside the state remain limited. Particularly on Hawaii Island, referred to here as the Big Island, there are large areas of agricultural land from abandoned sugar growing operations that are in not in productive use and being claimed by guinea grass, Christmas berry and other invasive plants that deplete water and contribute to fire hazards. This land could be cleared and used to grow moringa.  Moringa also has a potential for significant local uses:

  • In agroforestry and permaculture with other crops such as coffee.  This will improve agricultural diversity, provide a crop that can be harvested and provide returns to farmers before the coffee trees begin production, and also forage for bees and honey production.
  • Excess moringa produced from agroforestry operations and intensive production of moringa could be used here near or at the point of use for livestock fodder and supplements, reducing reliance on for costly imported materials.
  • Erosion control and phytoremediation of depleted soils and lands contaminated by pesticides.
  • Improving food security – Hawaii imports nearly 90% of its food supply.  Moringa could be used to provide food in the event that food transportation and distribution systems become disrupted.
  • Production of plant material for applications to other crops.

If suitable harvesting, transportation and processing systems can be developed the economic and shipping challenges limiting access to export markets can be overcome.   With these systems in place materials derived from moringa can be made into high value, nonperishable processed products such as leaf powder, dry livestock feed and seed oil for export.  These products would not be subject to quarantine restrictions and easier to ship.

Field Growing Trails in Hawaii.  We have initiated field trials with several volunteer coffee growers and farmers on Hawaii island, Molokai and Oahu.   The purposes of these trials are to develop information on the suitability of various moringa species, varieties and seed sources for growing in Hawaii, and to provide bulk plant materials for our other proposed research activities.  For these trials we use seedlings from germination testing of seeds prior to placement in our seed bank.   The seeds are from a diverse international array of sources.  Approximately 2000 seedlings have been grown and distributed to farmers at no charge or for fees at or below our seedling production costs.  Each tree is tagged with individual identification numbers that are entered into a database. We request the growers to provide data on plant survival and growth observations.  Our intent is to collect this data and make it available to the public on seed lot data sheets in the Moringa Seed Bank section of our website, which is currently under development.

The initial results from these trials have been disappointing.  Most of our growers face significant challenges in finding sufficient agricultural labor for their operations and these workers are not able to collect and report the required data.  With our limited resources and logistics we are not able to routinely collect most of the data ourselves, particularly at farms distant from our facility. Another major problem has been training and supervision of transient workers carrying out weed control activities on the farms.  Most of the moringa seedlings planted so far have been destroyed during weed clearing operations.

The data collected from these field trials is potentially of great value but we cannot continue these as they are currently being conducted. We are seeking new partnerships with growers that have a strong interest in conducting the trials and adequate personnel, resources and funding to carry them to completion.

Please contact us if you would like to discuss participation in our field trials.

 

M-stenopetala-with-Bananas

Moringa stenopetala Growing with Bananas

 

Building a Moringa Seed Bank

Welcome to our International Moringa Seed Bank!  The bank is still under construction and not quite ready to open so please bear with us as we finish building this section of our website.

Introduction

Some species of moringa that are that have significant potential for use as crops are becoming scarce in the wild and many are in danger of extinction. Clearly there is a need to protect these plants and maintain accessible collections for seed production, research and other purposes. An International Moringa Germplasm Collection with living material of 12 of the 13 Moringa species has been established as a resource for scientific research on the basic biology of moringa and investigation of applied uses such as nutrition, cancer chemoprevention, biofuels, and water clarification. It is managed by Dr. Mark Olson, of the Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and is located on the coast of Jalisco, Mexico. 

While development of the germplasm collection is a very important step for conservation and research, individuals and prospective growers have difficulty obtaining seeds from species other than Moringa oleifera and seeds from multiple production areas. The various species, varieties and even trees of the same species grown in different areas may have different cultural requirements, pest and disease resistance or suitability for production of pods or leaves. In our limited experience in procuring moringa seeds we found that the age and viability of seeds provided was highly variable, sources of seeds were unknown or poorly documented and most domestic and international vendors are unaware of or do comply with USDA or other regulations applicable to import and export of agricultural products. Ideally there should be a single domestic source offering a diverse selection of high quality seeds so that growers can obtain and try a diverse array of seeds in their growing areas and for specific applications, and then select seeds that best meet their needs for larger plantings.

To meet this need we are planning to establish a moringa seed bank and plan to begin limited operations by July 2017. Seeds will be offered in small quantities through our online store. Overhead costs associated with importing, cataloging, germination testing, storing, obtaining inspections and permits, and shipping and re-exporting small lots of seeds from Hawaii are anticipated to be significant and will have to be reflected in our prices. We do not expect to make a profit from this activity. The opening of our seed bank will be announced on the news section of this website.

Moringa Seed Bank Operations

This section is under construction.

 

Moringa Seed Bank Catalog

This section is under construction.

 

Purchasing Moringa Seeds

This section is under construction.

 

Moringa Seed Planting Instructions

This section is under construction.

 

Growing Moringa

This section is under construction.