Moringa, a plant native to Asia and Africa has grown in popularity recently due to its benefits.
The Moringa tree (AKA: Drumstick tree) has existed for decades and has historically been used for medicinal purposes in many developing countries. Commercial cultivation of Moringa is increasingly becoming common in Africa with just a few players dominating the market.
But here are some benefits for smallholder farmers, the Moringa tree is drought resistant and can grow in dry areas with little water. Each plant requires roughly 20 litres of water a month depending on the soil, unlike maize and tobacco which heavily rely on water and fertiliser to grow.
Due to this fact, Moringa production is a low-cost investment with potential of high returns. Due to recent droughts in many African countries maize production is no longer sustainable and access to irrigation systems is still a challenge for many. Moringa leaves once dried can be turned into powder to produce several products such as tea and capsules. The seeds can be pressed to extract oil for cosmetic products. The leaves can be harvested every three months which can provide year-round income. The seeds take longer to mature and therefore farmers can expect to harvest in just under 2 years.
Globally, Moringa is considered a ‘superfood’ due to its nutrients and the fact it is rich in vitamins. So far, the U.S. and Europe have been the main global markets for Moringa-based products. Its market size in 2018 was estimated to be around $5.5billion and expected grow further according to Global Market Insights. With many consumers becoming health conscious, the ‘superfood’ industry has experienced unprecedented growth over the years.
Although Moringa production is dominated by Indians farmers, there is room for more African farmers to enter the market. Organic certification is likely to be the main barrier to enter these markets. An alternative for most smallholder farmers will be engaging in contract farming with established Moringa producers to reduce the overall cost. The large producers will often provide technical assistance and training to ensure the final products comply with legal requirements.
With huge market demand, Moringa production could potentially transform rural communities by creating job opportunities as well as food security. More and more NGOs on the continent have included Moringa products into their food programs to fight malnutrition. Moringa is also often linked to treating mood disorders, obesity and reducing high blood pressure however, there is little scientific evidence to support these claims.