Categories: Articles, Resource managementPublished On: 9th June 2023

Meet the miracle tree: Production, cultivation, and consumption of moringa in Southern Africa

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Both animals and humans can benefit from eating moringa (Moringa oleifera). Due to the plant’s high nutrient content, this “miracle tree” is useful in the fight against malnutrition, and its resistance to drought makes it possible to make better use of semi-arid areas.

To combat poverty and malnutrition, developing nations have increased their demand for food on a global scale. In the middle of 2019, the global population was estimated at 7,7 billion; by 2050, that number is expected to rise to 9,7 billion. Midway through 2019, the population of Africa was estimated to be around 1,3 billion people. Therefore, ensuring a sufficient food supply for a growing global population has become a top priority worldwide.

Moringa tree at maturity.

Medicinal and consumable plant varieties

Plants have long played an important role in human survival and well-being, providing essential nutrients, medicines, materials, and energy. Between 7 000 and 390 000 plant species are cultivated or collected for human consumption or other uses. About 95% of the world’s food comes from only 30 plant species, and only about 150 of these are grown commercially

These domesticated species might be able to meet human energy requirements, but they are not always able to meet nutritional requirements. That is why it is so important to raise the yields of less-studied plant species that are well-adapted to their rural environments and are used for food or raw materials. Moringa is one of 13 known species of the family Moringaceae and is endemic to the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India. While it is possible to plant seeds in the field, it is advised that seedlings be cared for in nurseries.

Uses and benefits of moringa

In addition to its many applications in the food and medical industries, moringa is used to make biofuel and purify water. Almost every part of a plant contains some combination of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins (A, B1, B2, B3, C, and E), and minerals. There is a lot of antioxidants, phenols, tannins, and flavanols in the leaves and roots.

The use of moringa leaves in a daily diet has been argued to be safe and without adverse effects. The leaves and seeds are used for both nutritional and medicinal purposes and can be consumed raw, boiled, or as a powder. Several international development programmes have incorporated moringa into their strategies to address hunger, poverty, and global warming. In 2006, the Lammangata Moringa Project in the village of Tooseng in South Africa’s rural Limpopo Province introduced moringa as a crop for subsistence farmers.

There has been a significant rise in moringa production and consumption across all the continent’s agro-ecological zones. Stakeholders, including the governments of some countries like South Africa, farmers, and educational institutions, have established flagship projects in response to rising national interest in moringa. The biological and chemical properties of moringa, for instance, were studied by the Vegetable and Ornamental Plants group at the Agricultural Research Council in Roodeplaat. Moringa has the potential to improve nutrition, income, and livelihood throughout the southern part of the continent. Work on moringa in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa is thoroughly examined with regard to productivity, growing conditions, and government department programmes.

Moringa flowers and leafy greens can be consumed raw or boiled.

Locations for growing Moringa in South Africa and similar locations in Africa

Approximately six of the nine provinces in South Africa are dedicated to the cultivation of moringa: Limpopo, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, and North West. Most of these provinces’ farmers and households grow it in Limpopo. The Moringa Development Association of South Africa (MDASA) is a hub of information and resources for the moringa industry in South Africa. Initiated in 2013, its stated goal is to increase moringa sales, usage, and production.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of farmers cultivating moringa in certain regions of South Africa. On 0,25 ha of land in Limpopo, farmers harvested between 50 and 100 kg of moringa seeds per hectare. The annual revenue from selling moringa leaves was estimated at $13 000, with a $6 000 profit margin. It was determined that only 17% (or 200 837 km2) of South Africa’s total land area was optimal for growing moringa, while 18% (or 216 758 km2) was suitable, 46% (560 794 km2) was less suitable, and only 19% (or 240 699 km2) was completely unsuitable.

In the province of Limpopo, about 80% of the land was considered good for growing moringa. Optimal conditions were predicted for the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, and Western Cape provinces, in addition to KwaZulu-Natal, suggesting that production could take place in all nine of South Africa’s provinces. Since moringa cultivation in South Africa is just getting started, it is impossible to assess the total area under cultivation or the number of harvested hectares. Therefore, it is necessary to encourage farmers in areas with suitable growing conditions to engage in its production and gain the potential benefits. By controlling environmental factors, such as in greenhouses, moringa can be cultivated outside of its native range.

Moringa flowers and leafy greens can be consumed raw or boiled.

Initiatives by governments regarding moringa

Governments in Sub-Saharan Africa use moringa to combat hunger, poverty, and food insecurity. Similarly, the South African government has been promoting moringa cultivation in an effort to reduce the prevalence of hunger in those regions.

The Department of Science and Technology (now DSI) has made funds available for moringa-related initiatives. DSI also maintains its push for moringa farming and processing facilities in rural communities. Since 2010, DSI has funded projects that aim to increase the quality of moringa and develop new products by fusing scientific and traditional knowledge.

New moringa farmers have received roughly the same amount of financial and technical support from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development (DALRRD). To combat unemployment, DALRRD keeps pushing local communities to use moringa. Recent research has shown promising results for encouraging kids to add moringa leaf powder to their daily diets. These facts suggest that the Department of Basic Education sees the potential for using moringa in schools to combat child malnutrition.

Mucuna pruriens pods, also known as moringa seeds.

References

Mashamaite, C.V., Pieterse, P.J., Mothapo, P.N., and Phiri, E.E. (2021) Moringa oleifera in South Africa: A review on its production, growing conditions and consumption as a food source. South African Journal of Science. Issue 117(3/4), Art. #8689. Available at: https://journals.co.za/doi/pdf/10.17159/sajs.2021/8689

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