Moringa a National Asset with Enormous Opportunities, Challenges

Moringa is a commercial crop; it is cultivated extensively in India and some parts of Africa. It would be challenging to find a region in the tropics or subtropics where Moringa is not grown as a backyard tree for leaf and pod consumption and medical purpose. Although the demand for the commodity has been minimum in the past, due to the growing awareness, its demand is picking up. As a result, the private sector is beginning to invest on Moringa. However, stockholders still stress the lack of proper attention to the crop continues as a major bottleneck to its development. EBR’s Tamirat Astatkie explores the issue to learn more about it.

In recent years, Moringa, which is locally called Shiferaw or Aleko, has increasingly gained popularity in Addis Ababa and beyond. It is now easily available in supermarkets, small retail shops and even some cafes serve it in the form of tea. Moringa is also becoming a common agricultural commodity available for purchase in most busy streets of the capital including Mexico, Megenagna and Gerji.
Fisha Abebaw, Procurement and Store Manager at Shoa Supermarket – one of the big supermarkets having 12 outlets in Addis Ababa – give evidence for the increase in the demand for Moringa referring to the increase in the number of customers from time to time.
“Shoa has started to sell Moringa four years ago in a very small quantity intending to introduce the product in the form of powder with only one supplier,” Fisha recalls. “Now that is history. The exponential increase in the demand of customers has forced Shoa to fill its shelves in all its outlets with packed and labeled Moringa powder receiving up to 30 cartoons in one delivery from a supplier. We are now receiving Moringa products from four different suppliers.” Fiseha added.
The increase in the demand for Moringa in the local market, however, doesn’t come easily, according to Kaleb Kelemu, Coordinator of External Projects and Partnership at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), who formerly served at the same institute as a Researcher, Initiator and Coordinator of the Moringa Project. The project was primarily targeted to create awareness as well as proper and effective value and supply chain.
Of course, from the very outset the project, which started seven years ago, faced challenges securing grant from EIAR. “The absence of Moringa from the priority list of the agricultural commodities for research funding created a serious impediment for approval and implementation of the project proposal,” Kaleb told EBR. “Eventually, it was from the external sources that we could secure grant for the project.”
“The primary objective of the project was to initiate farmers to produce the plant as a source of income. Though ultimately succeeded, we were challenged by the farmers at the outset,” Kaleb reminiscences the challenges of the project. “Then we took Addis Ababa, Mekelle, Hawassa, Adama, Bahir Dar and Shewa Robit as a pilot-project sites to create consumers groups. We gave small group orientation for teachers, students, business people and public servants along with provisions of Moringa food and tea prepared by nutritionists for about a month as part of awareness creation activities. In the course of time, the target groups started to experience observable changes in their health status,” Kaleb remebers.
In the next phase, the project organized small group of unemployed youth from Shewa Robit, Alamata, Konso, and Adama and trained them on the preparation and processing of Moringa (Starting from gathering of leaves to packing the Moringa powder). Then through the project retailers found in Addis Ababa, Hawassa, Adama and Mekelle the producers were exposed to the market, which according to Kaleb, is a simple yet effective value chain.
“The project created the value chain model and the states replicate the same model throughout the country,” Kaleb narrates. “Currently, there are thousands of retailers of Moringa in Addis Ababa.”
Moringa is a commercial crop extensively cultivated in India and some parts of Africa. In Ethiopia, Moringa stenopetala is the most commonly grown species, and the leaf of the plant has been used as a substitute for cabbage in the local diet in Southern Ethiopia. In fact, it is a staple food for more than five million people in areas such as Konso and also serves as animal feed.
According to the International Journal of Science and Research, Moringa can be used in different forms such as Moringa leaf Powder, Moringa leaf powder in Teabag, Moringa fortified fruit juice and honey, Moringa in capsule, Moringa fortified confectionaries and Moringa fresh leaf.
Moringa seeds are effective against skin-infecting bacteria. The leaf juice has a stabilizing effect on blood pressure and controls glucose levels of diabetic patients. Moringa fresh leaves and leaf powder are recommended for tuberculosis patients because of the availability of vitamin A that boosts the immune system.
If Moringa leaf juice is used as diuretic, it increases urine flow and cures gonorrhea. Leaf juice mixed with honey treats diarrhea, dysentery and colitis (colon inflammation). Fresh leaves are also good for pregnant and lactating mothers; they improve milk production and are prescribed for anemia. Paste made from bark treats boils while paste from ground bark can be applied to relieve pain caused by snake, scorpion and insect bites. Moringa oil is sometimes applied externally for skin diseases.
Due to its rich nutritional value, many countries also have been using Moringa in combating malnutrition and food insecurity. Besides, it can serve as an outstanding source of essential nutrients in the tropics especially at the end of the dry season when food is scarce or when food is seasonally unavailable. Furthermore, the flour of Moringa tree seeds is excellent for the detoxification and purification of water.
A study entitled ‘An Overview of Moringa Production in Ethiopia’ reveals that the experience of many developed countries like USA, UK, Germany, Australia, Korea and Japan as well as developing countries such as China, India and Brazil proves that Moringa can be a horticultural product that has a great potential and high returns for Ethiopia.
Although the commercialisation of Moringa products in Ethiopia is still very informal and it is difficult to get reliable information about production volumes and prices, the fact that Ethiopia possesses an ample potential, which is similar to India, the world’s largest Moringa producer with an annual production of 1.1 to 1.3 million tonnes of Moringa products from an area of 380 kilometre square, attests Moringa’s market potential.
Such rich potential, which helps to boost consumers’ demand, also attracted the private sector to invest in Moringa. According to Kaleb, quite a few big companies are now engaged in the production of Moringa although there are many more middle and small level producers as well as thousands of retailers in the country.
Awol Shita, founder and manager of Mars Moringa Production and Supplier says due to the increasing demand he decided to invest in Moringa. “I started to supply the market with very small quantity as there was limited demand due to the lack of awareness. The big supermarkets used to take a maximum of 12 pieces of 250 grams packed Moringa powder tagged Mars Moringa,” Awol recalls.
But due to the increasing demand, currently, Awol supplies supermarkets and other shops with Moringa packed in 100g to 250kg. “The big supermarkets now take up to 2,000 pieces per delivery. Due to this increased demand, our production has also increased significantly. ” Awol confirms.
Mars Moringa Production and Supplier was established four years ago in Gidole Wereda around Konso, one of the eight special Wereda administrations in the State of SNNP with an initial capital ETB4,000 and production capacity of 25 kilograms per month on average. At present, the company has its own processing center in Gidole built with ETB1.2 million and a warehouse in Addis Ababa. “The company now has 20 permanent employees at the processing center and around 30 part-time workers in Addis Ababa and its asset exceeds ETB 3 million.” Awol told EBR.
K Vegetables and Fruits is the other company that is engaged in the production of Moringa and various vegetables, fruits, green tea, onion and potato on 21 hectares of land leased from farmers in the state of Oromia at a place called Meki, located 134 kilometer south of Addis Ababa. “We are the pioneers both in introducing and selling Moringa products in a form of tea and powder in the country since 2003,” Kebreab Abebe, founder and manager of K Vegetables and Fruits PLC, claims.
“I have strived to create awareness on the nutritional values among farmers for a decade. I dispersed more than 30,000 seedlings free of charge to farmers around Meki, but failed in succeeding,” Kebreab lamented.
Currently, K Vegetables and Fruits has around 40,000 Moringa plants in its plantation and at present produces five quintals of Moringa annually on average and supply them to major supermarkets in Addis Ababa as well as sell in its shop located near Welo Sefer in Africa Avenue. “Despite having a large number of Moringa plant, Our low level of production is attributed to the frosty weather” Kebreab told EBR.
Despite the increasing demand in the local and global markets, the investment of a considerable amount of money as well as the attraction of the private sector, stakeholders argue that Moringa has been given less attention from the government. In fact, both Awol and Kebreab have strived to export Moringa to countries like the US, Norway, Turkey, China and Israel. But, absence of standard for the Moringa products deters their effort to a larger extent.
“The lack of attention to Moringa by the government is a major bottleneck to the development of Moringa in all senses,” argues Awol. “It took me two years to get export license due to the absence of standard.”
However, recently the State of SNNP in collaboration with United Nations Industrial Development Organisation and the Office of the First Lady of Ethiopia launched a programme on Moringa value chain development. The aim of the programme, which will end after five years, is improving the value chain of Moringa in the country by training local communities about the appropriate cultivation, preparation and processing method of the indigenous Moringa plant and by introducing processing technologies; according to the joint press statement released on February 24, 2017.
Despite the prevailing challenges, Awol is hopeful as well as adamant that he would be able to do more. “I have prepared a proposal in order to get loan from a bank, and at the same time I am assessing the offer given to me to work in joint venture by a number foreign companies to set up an oil and soup factory.”
Kebreab, in his part, suggests that commercialisation should become more structured and formalised in order to boost the quality and productivity of Moringa. “It is not a simple issue, it requires policy direction,” Kebreab reiterates. “Moreover, benchmarking Sub Saharan African countries such as Lesotho, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal, that are doing great jobs in the area is crucial to tap the potential of Moringa in Ethiopia.” EBR

5th Year • May 2017 • No. 50

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