Despite huge earning from oil proceeds, Nigeria remains largely an agrarian economy with agriculture accounting for about 50 per cent of employment.
Besides, cocoa, cashew, palm oil, rice, cassava and soyabean, one other major cash crop that has huge potentials to boost farmer’s income, the economy and create more jobs is moringa. But regretably, its full potentials is yet to be tapped in the country.
Few farmers, who once used their agricultural skills to feed their families, now have the opportunity to turn moringa farming into profit making, as the demand is highly huge in USA, China and other European countries.
Ironically, Chinese, Indians, Veitnamese and South Korea companies are all over Lagos looking for Moringa seeds, as a bag of moringa seed costs N150,000 to N170,000 depending on the weights. In Kano state, the Chinese usually pay a moringa farmers in advance far ahead of the harvesting period.
Moringa is a cheap seedling with high returns on investment and grows in every part of the country, but farmers are yet to appreciate the full benefits of the tree.
In Zamfara alone, a trader in moringa seeds rakes in N6 million every year because the seed has more monetary value than the leaves with a kilo of it sold for N1,800 to N2,000.
During the raining season, farmers can harvest at least three times a season, depending on the size of the farm. A farmer can also generate significant income to meet the family’s financial needs. With less effort, a small size of land can accommodate many stems that can within a short period grow and produce the seeds that can be used for export, where they are processed for both consumption and value addition.
Following its export recognition, non-profit and international development agencies have spent millions of dollars to encourage people across the African continent to grow and use moringa. The crop is being used by pharmaceutical, perfumery, trado-medical practitioners, and food industries as its leaves and other parts are useful as medicine for treatment of ailments.
Looking at the in-depth health benefits of Moringa leaves, stem, root, and seeds, scientific studies have shown that it contains specific antioxidants and health promoting ingredients that offer palliatives to malnutrition, hunger and diseases. The early leaves are edible and are commonly cooked and eaten like spinach or used to make soups and salads. It’s rich in many vitamins, including Vitamin A, several forms of Vitamin B, Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Vitamin E.
According to the Deputy Managing Director of Peniel Gera International Limited, a seed company, Ojiefoh Enahoro Martins, Moringa is one of the world’s most useful plants and fast-growing tree grown throughout the tropics for human food, livestock forage, medicine, dye, and water purification.
Being one of the world’s most nutritious crops, he said that the leaves of moringa have more beta-carotene than carrots, more protein than peas, more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more potassium than bananas, more iron than spinach.
Martins explained that Moringa requires normal farmland preparation and a well-prepared seedbed. It has two varieties, which are Moringa oleifera and Moringa stenopetala which are the most commonly grown. Moringa oleifera is most widely cultivated but the new variety Moringa oleifera differ in growing habit, leaf, flower, and pod characteristics.
While planting, he explained that there is direct seedling, transplanting, and using hard stem cuttings. He noted that direct seedling is preferred when plenty of seed is available and labor is limited. Transplanting allows flexibility in field planting but requires extra labor and cost in raising seedlings.
“Plants 3-5m apart between rows and plants. If using raised beds, form beds with 2m-wide tops, and space plants 3–5 m apart in a single rows. On pest control, Moringa is resistant to most pests and diseases, but outbreaks may occur under certain conditions. For example, diplodia root rot may appear in waterlogged soils, causing severe wilting and death of plants. Mite populations can increase during dry and cool weather. These pests create yellowing of leaves, but plants usually recover during warm weather.”
However, he maintained that Moringa grows well in most soils without addition of fertilizer. Once established, the extensive and deep root system of moringa is efficient in mining nutrients from the soil, saying that for optimum growth and yields, fertilizers are applied at planting time: dig trenches around the base of the plant (10–20 cm from the base) and apply approximately 300 g of a commercial nitrogen fertilizer per tree. He said farmers should maintain a weed-free planting by regular manual process or herbicide.
“I personally advise regular pruning to promote and increase yields, and facilitate harvesting. If left to grow without cutting the main trunk, the fast-growing tree will grow straight, producing tall leaves and pods only on the primary stem.
Harvesting Leaves can be done after plants grow 1.5–2metres, which usually takes at least one year. Harves leaves by snapping leaf stems from branches. Harvesting young shoot tips will promote development of side branches. Harvest pods when they are young, tender, and green. They are eaten as green beans.
Preservation and market
“Farmers should store seeds in well-ventilated sacks in a cool, dry, and shaded area. Moringa seeds have both international and local market values. Since the introduction of Moringa, the price has been on 50 per cent increase annually because of new research and development of the usefulness. Between 2015 to 2016 price jumped from N50 per kg, which is N500, 000 per ton to 200 per kg, which is 2 million per ton. Our company has sold tons worth millions.”
He disclosed that Moringa tolerates a wide range of environmental conditions. It grows best between 25 to 35oC, but will tolerate up to 48oC in the shade and can survive in 98 per cent of states in Africa. This adaptable tree prefers a well-drained sandy loam or loamy soil, survive clay except under prolonged flooding and the tree tolerates a soil pH of 5.0.