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Farmers found livelihoods farming moringa

Some of the members belonging to EMUKA Moringa Cooperative Society display value added products from moringa in Makueni County. (Nanjinia Wamuswa)

One litre of oil extracted from moringa seeds costs Sh 8,000 at Emuka Moringa Farmers’ Cooperative Society Shop, located in Emali town, Makueni County.

While the oil, which is used either for cooking or cosmetics seems costly, Veronicah Mwikali, the shop attendant reveals, in fact, the current price is on promotion basis.

That, soon, they will adjust to retails at normal price of Sh 12,000 like other places.

Why this expensive? “Anything to do with women beauty always has huge market. Despite being seen as expensive, the oil is the most sought after product in this shop,” Mwikali explains.

Mostly, she explains, the oil is used as cosmetics to clear face marks, pimples, burns, dandruffs and smoothens and nourishes the skin.

Mwikali shares they have packaged the oil into different sizes so as to fit various clients. For instance, half a litre costs Sh 4000, quarter Sh 2000 and the smallest pack weighing 60ml is Sh 600.

Dr Oscar K. Koech (PhD), University of Nairobi, Department of Land Resource Management and Agricultural Technology (LARMAT) believes there’s reason for the oil retailing at such exorbitant price.

“Maybe they are following some of the benefits of the ingredients in terms of diet or the components of health that is in the oil,” he says.

Moringa leaf powder is second best-selling product, due to its medicinal value. It is used in beverages like tea, hot water, vegetables and other foodstuffs.

Other value added products are moringa facial scrub, moringa pellets, moringa fortified flours, moringa seeds and moringa animal and chicken feeds, all with equally huge market across the country.

Farmers drawn from Emali and Mulala are laughing all the way to the bank, enjoying the fruits of moringa value chain project, implemented in Kajiado and Makueni Counties through funding from New Zealand government, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, ChildFund New Zealand, ChildFund Kenya and Barnfonden.

The Smart Harvest visited and found Joseph Nyambuya, one of moringa farmers plucking the leaves that he delivers to a processing factory in Mwanyani.

In an eighth acre farm, save for tens of tall moringa trees with creamy-white flowers swaying from one side to the other, the land is bare and dry.

“It has not rained for months. The last time we saw rain was in November last year,” recounts Nyambuya from Kiliku area of Kibwezi West, Makueni County.

He regrets, farmers who planted after the rains have since lost all their crop. Since 2018 when first planted moringa, Nyambuya shares the crop has remained intact, even in extreme dry conditions.

He says everything on moringa including leaves, flowers, roots, the young pods and the seeds has benefits. On average, he pockets Sh 5000 every month, and he’s plans to expand his farm to an acre.

Fresh leaves, 1kg costs Sh 22, while powder leaves 1kg is Sh 1000. The seeds 1kg is 150 while 1kg of oil from seeds is Sh 8000.

Phineas Gikunda, Project Manager ChildFund Kenya says moringa value chain interventions range from production, processing or value-addition to marketing through farmer cooperative-Emuka Moringa Farmers’ Cooperative Society.

He explains, they promote moringa farming because of its economic, social or nutritional and ecological benefits.

“After harvesting leaves and seeds, farmers take them to a central processing unit where they manufacture various products, packaged into different weights and volumes, labelled before selling across the country.

He explains moringa is rich in vitamins high in protein content, and minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, potassium and magnesium.

Compared to other vegetation, Gikunda explains moringa has over 20 percent capacity to absorb carbon emissions that contributes to global warming and climate change.

However, Dr Joel Ochieng, a Programme Leader, Agricultural Biotechnology & Wildlife, at University of Nairobi says moringa is not in any way special compared to other trees in absorbing carbon and mitigating climate change.

Its just that, he explains, moringa spreads and covers larger surface, and because of large ground cover, it reduces at maximum the refractory capacity that leads to global warming.

“It doesn’t have to be moringa, but any other with vegetation cover can assist in absorbing carbon. Less vegetation cover results in global warming. Once you have open field, more heat will be coming from earth surface to the environment,” he explains.

Dr Ochieng who is also Secretary General of the Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium (KUBICO) believes farmers are adopting moringa for other reasons, say medicinal, not really global warming, since any plant can do the same.

Gikunda recalls, back in 2017 when the project started, the adoption was low due to lack of awareness on moringa benefits. However, after awareness, more farmers have adopted for nutritional, ecological and economic benefits.

They started with just handful of farmers but now are over 300, and the number is expected to reach 1000 soon.

Rose Marita who feeds moringa leaves to her goats, recalls before they started moringa, their livestock had suffered a lot during dry season. Even goats that survive through browsing, found it hard during dry times.

Yet, she doubted how moringa will grow with little rainfall in the area. “They assured us moringa is a hardy plant, will still do well even with little rainfall, and have a lot of benefits. She resolved to give it a try,” says Marita from Katune area in Mulala.

Apart from foods, Dr Koech says moringa is ideal for making animal feeds. It is a good source of proteins, Vitamins, has antioxidant properties.

He says, it can easily replace 100 percent soya in animal feeds. “You can use moringa and ease pressure on soya which is used as human food,” he explains.

Marita started with 200 trees just for trials but later increased to current 1050, and now eyes to plant more than 2000.

I her 2acres, Marita intercrops with bananas, maize, cowpeas, soya and pigeon peas. She says harvest 10 bags of moringa leaves.

To use in the foodstuffs at home, farmers explain, after picking the leaves, they wash and dry in the shade, after which they crush into powder, and mix with beverages or foodstuffs.

However, the say main challenge is pests. Moringa is attacked by spider mites and squirrels love their roots since they tastes like sweet potatoes.

Theophillus Somba, Chairperson, EMUKA Moringa Cooperative Society says in a day, the cooperative gets 450kg of leaves from farmers. That, 450kg of fresh leaves give around 50kg of dry leaves.

“Well matured and high quality seeds are good for extracting oil. Leaves should also be of high quality, so as to produce good powder,” he explains.

In a day, Somba reveals they extract 5litres of oil.

He explains, from the farm, leaves are sorted to get the right quality. They are then washed in three basins. The first basin contains normal water where leaves are washed to remove dust, the second with salt to remove any disease or germs that could be on the leaves and third, to rinse the leaves.

Leaves are then put on a drier for two days. Here, they’re turned every 30 minutes, at a controlled temperature of 50 degrees and less.

Rebecca Maweu, Ward Agriculture Officer, Makueni County says prior to planting moringa, they trained farmers, because it is an emerging crop which many locals had not known it or its benefits.

“When ChildFund Kenya came, we resolved to work together and promote the plant. As a department, we offered the technical services in all the agronomical practices such as planting, spacing, best varieties, pests and diseases control, use of manure, weeding and harvesting,” she explains.

She says moringa is established a nursery and within two months are ready for transplanting.

In six months, leaves are ready for harvesting while seeds mature after one year, ready for value addition.

Maweu explains you can intercrop moringa with other crops like cowpeas, green grams, or the sweet potatoes, you therefore harvest more from one unit.

On intercropping, Dr Koech says, “Moringa is a leguminous tree and any leguminous tree does nitrogen fixation in the soil so, definitely the soils are going to have higher nitrogen content.”

Looking at productivity, it is projected that after five years moringa tree becomes less productive, and farmers are advised to do a new crop.

Gikunda is encouraging farmers to do moringa on a larger scale, says at least 100 trees so as to enjoy economies of scale.