Marsabit farmer rediscovers moringa value

Moringa

Omar Boru Qutara harvests moringa leaves on his one acre. Moringa growing is gradually gaining traction in Kenya’s dry counties.  

Photo credit: Jacob Walter | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Moringa products have proved to be a solution to health challenges.
  • Qutara says he sells a kilo of moringa leaves at Sh2,000.
  • Moringa leaves contain 28 percent protein with essential amino acids.

Despite the prominence food production has gained since the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010, hunger and nutritional insecurity are still disturbingly high.

Moderate or severe food insecurity is as high as 69 per cent of Kenya’s population, studies show, with more than 37 million people affected.

With extraordinary challenges calling for extraordinary responses, some families in Marsabit have resolved to grow moringa.

The “tree of life” has high prospects and could contribute to the UN sustainable development. It is among the high-priority crops that could reduce poverty and improve nutrition.

Omar Boru Qutara is one of the pioneer moringa farmers in Marsabit County.

The drought that ravaged the region from 2021 to 2023 taught Qutara and many other families a lesson.

 “I used to look for Moringa stenopetala that grows randomly in villages since childhood. Later, I realised the tree had massive benefits,” Qutara says.

“We lacked the knowledge about its production and use. I embarked on research and resolved to grow moringa for commercial purposes.”

Green revolution

Households came to the realisation of another source of livelihood after losing more than 80 per cent of their animals to drought. Crop farming could help them meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals on hunger, extreme poverty and climate change.

Qutara was dying to be among the problem-solvers. He tells Seeds of Gold that his interest was a green revolution that would end perennial hunger in Marsabit, not just the brick-and-mortar competition experienced when expanding market linkages.

During his visit to Mali, Cote d’Ivoire and Niger in 2019, he realised that moringa was being treated casually as traditional vegetable back home.

When Qutara flew back to Kenya, he ventured into large moringa production.

Dried leaves

More than 26 per cent of children under five in Isiolo and Marsabit are stunted, with many others having low weight.

Expectant women face vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition. Moringa products have proved to be a solution to these health challenges.

Qutara’s project is just two and a half years old but the outcome is desirable. He first 200 seedlings were destroyed by goats.

He planted new seedlings and now boasts of 350 moringa trees on his farm.

During the drought, livestock farmers kept approaching Qutara for dried moringa leaves to feed their animals.

He harvests 10 to 15 tonnes of moringa leaves from his farm every month.

Qutara says he sells a kilo of moringa leaves at Sh2,000. He gets orders from as far as Nairobi, Mombasa and Isiolo.

The farmer is thinking of exporting moringa to the United Kingdom where his daughter is studying. He has already sent samples to Britain to test the market. Qutara also sent samples to Turkiye.

He heaps praises on the moringa tree as drought-resistant and easy to manage.

Konso, Burji and Borana community members largely depend on the Moringa stenopetala species – which takes many years to mature.

Qutara, however, chose Moringa Oleifera, which matures in just three months.

His venture surprised even the Marsabit County Agriculture Department, which offered to partner with Qutara and donated a solar drier to help him add value to his yields.

Officials of the World Food Programme (WFP) visited his farm and offered to donate at least 200 additional moringa seedlings. He will use the donation to expand his farm.

Qutara expects to have at least 1,000 moringa trees by 2026. He has inspired some other farmers like the Dakabaricha Women Self-Help Group.

Apart from cultivating sukuma wiki, the women also grow Moringa oleifera. The women’s venture is rewarding as they get orders from Kenyans residing in the US.

Marsabit County Nutrition Officer Fatuma Shukuyo, praised moringa as a green revolution potential crop with the ability to transform the region’s food and nutritional status.

She told the Seeds of Gold team during a county trade fair that moringa tree leaves can be dried, and ground to powder.

When the leaves are gently treated, they preserve all nutrients in the easy-to-use powder. The powder, she said, has the highest biological amino acid content of any vegetable products.

Shukuyo said Moringa leaves are packed with minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants.

 “This makes the powder an ideal and complete dietary supplement,” she said.

Moringa leaves contain 28 percent protein with essential amino acids. They are also rich in branched-chain amino acids, which are important for muscle build-up.

Nutritionists say moringa contains large amounts of selenium combined with vitamin E as an anti-oxidant. It also has magnesium for healthy muscles, potassium, calcium and sodium effective for neuronal lines, and iron for red blood cells.

The leaves of Moringa oleifera are rich in calcium, potassium, zinc, magnesium, iron, copper and other minerals.

They contain carotene, folic acid, pyridoxine, nicotinic acid and vitamins C, D, and E.

The powder can be used in cereals, smoothies, beverages, desserts, yoghurt, dressings and salads.

It can be added to dishes, sauces, curries and confectionery products to improve their nutritional value.

Moringa oil was prized in the making of perfumes in ancient Egypt, Greece and the Roman Empire.

In Zambia and Tanzania, moringa farming employs thousands, with the products being sold locally and exported to the UK, China, South Africa and several other countries.

During a recent World Food Safety Commemoration Day organised by the Nature Conservancy, a Micro Enterprises Support Programme Trust (MESPT) official said moringa is one of the crops on its promotion list.

MESPT Programmes Manager Ann Ngugi said moringa farming promotion is top of the priorities since the crop has potential to boost food and nutritional security in Kenya.

Livestock feed

She added that moringa is an important food source in many countries. In India, for instance, moringa pods are widely consumed. There are plantations producing pods for exports.

Moringa seeds contain a cationic polyelectrolyte that is good for water treatment. It is a substitute for aluminium sulphate and other flocculants.

Moringa is used as livestock feed, a plant growth hormone, green manure and medicine.

Among the 13 species known, Moringa oleifera is the easiest to produce as it grows and matures fast.

Moringa stenopetala is mainly grown by the Konso, Burji and Borana communities in Ethiopia and Kenya.

The plant has long been a staple food for humans and livestock in Southeast Asia.