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Drying and Grinding Moringa Stenopetala

Highlights:

  • Preferable to grind and dry in close proximity to the where the leaves are grown.
  • Drying time: 3.5 days (but you could probably settle for 2 or 2.5).
  • Yield depends on coarseness of grind. I have 2.9 kg of finely ground leaf powder, and 2 kg of less finely ground leaf powder that together were derived from roughly 40 kg of fresh leaves.
  • Different methods of grinding: traditional vs. local mill vs. there’s probably a better way.

After arriving in Awassa with a truckload of fresh moringa stenopetala leaves, it was time to sort and dry the leaves. The optimal method, I believe, would be to sort and process the leaves immediately after picking and in relatively close proximity to the farm or farms from which the leaves were sourced. When you transport moringa, you certainly don’t want to pay the expense of transporting fresh moringa long distances, as it is much heavier than the leaf powder (finished product). Moreover, it is better to process the leaves fresh from the tree, rather than transporting before hand.

Unfortunately, we had to transport the fresh leaves the long 300 km to Awassa. The leaves were picked between approximately 4-7 am on Thursday morning, November 5th. We did not go directly, were not in a hurry, and arrived back in Awassa the evening of Friday, November 6th. Saturday was spent sorting the leaves and then laying them out on a large tarp in a warehouse style building to dry. It was excruciatingly slow work picking the leaves from the stems (again, something I believe could be done much faster and easier when picked fresh – possibly you only pick the leaves the first time through, and then go back and cut the green stems back in order to keep your trees at the proper harvesting height).

The leaves dried until Wednesday, November 11th. On Wednesday we then had a worker grind the leaves with the traditional, large style mortar and pedestal (pics of this process will soon be posted to Lamp Post Photos, link at the right). This yielded about 5.5 kg of ground leaf powder. Desiring a finer powder, I decided to take 3.5 kg to the local mill to see if they could grind it finer.

Yared and I had such severe allergy attacks while in the mill I thought we may both have to leave for lack of air. If it had taken five minutes longer, I am sure I would have had to leave. The air was full of dust, which was actually ground peppers, wheat, flour and anything else you can imagine that is possible to grind.

The owner of the mill, Ato Getu, is quite a gentleman. He wore a top hat and had that gentlemanly look about him, and did not let me down. He took the time to change the filter in one of his old grinders to ensure that we would get the finest quality he could produce. Then, he ground my 3.5 kg for free. Generally, it cost around 5 birr to grind 20-30 kg, depending on the product.

After grinding the 3.5 kg had been reduced to 2.9 kg., but was of a finer consistency. Conducting personal taste tests, I prefer the finer consistency because it is less leaf like to consume – as far as texture is concerned. It is, however, unfortunate, to lose so much of your product in grinding. I am sure you could devise a system that would prevent losing this much product when sieving and grinding.

The next challenge is to research nutritional reports on ground moringa stenopetala leaf powder, and hopefully get the powder we have tested. If anyone has advice on where I may test the nutritional value, and properties of the leaf powder, please let me know. I will be stateside for a month around Christmas, and hope to visit university libraries at that time to see what past research has been produced. I have read some reports claiming that other than vitamin C, very little nutritional value is lost in the drying process. Further, the powder, gram-for-gram, contains much higher levels of nutrients because it is essentially in concentrate form.[1]

Many thanks to Ben Taylor, Yared Sisay, Water is Life International and Selam Awassa Business Group for all of the assistance.

JTV
Awassa, Ethiopia


[1] Trees for Life International, ‘Moringa Presentation,’ http://www.treesforlife.org/our-work/our-initiatives/moringa/moringas-potential/moringas-potential

Moringa Field Trip

Highlights:

  • 270 km road from Awassa to Arba Minch is in disrepair, but a new road is under construction, with portions already paved.
  • A household south of Konso sells Moringa seed pods, harvested from their 13 trees, for 20 birr/ kg, which constitutes an estimated 12.5% of annual household income.
  • The same household also mixes the leaves in their diet for nutrition.
  • Purchased a ‘bundle’ (approx. 40kg) of Moringa stenopetala leaves direct from a farmer in the Dherashe valley for 50 birr.
  • Moringa s. trees in Dherashe valley were green and lush (altitude = 1200m).
  • Moringa s. incorporated heavily into the local diet in Konso.
  • Seed pods not sold at market, nor harvested in Arba Minch, Dherashe or Konso.
  • Hand-sized bundles (approx. 1/4 kg) of Moringa s. leaves w/ stems sold for 2 birr each in Konso market.
  • Next steps: drying and then grinding the Moringa stenopetala.

The trip to Arba Minch and Konso was a 101 crash course in Moringa cultivation and use in Ethioipia. I love going anywhere I haven’t been, seeing new landscapes, meeting new people and observing local cultures and economies. While the trip was a blast, it was one bumpy ride. The road from Awassa to Arba Minch is in absolute disrepair. Fortunately, they are building a new road in place of the previous one. It’s quite a long distance (totally 270 kilometers from Awassa to Arba Minch), so the road could take a while to complete. I’m guessing it may be completed in 2 years, but depends on the rainy season – maybe I’ll call the Roads Authority to get an official completion date, for what it’s worth. A good sign, the asphalt plant was up and running and portions of the new road are being paved…the tar and asphalt was a sweet smell of nostalgia for a guy who grew up on a steam roller.

Any assessment of the viability of sourcing a cash crop must first begin with accessibility. If you cannot transport the goods in an efficient manner, likely nothing else will matter – you are finished before you start. That is why the state of the road is so important. Currently, transport trucks can and do make the journey to Arba Minch (Arba Minch produces nearly all of the bananas sold in Awassa and Addis), but a tarmac road will greatly increase efficiencies in transport. Mr. Röschli tells me that only six years ago the road was in good shape and that you could, ‘have breakfast in Addis and lunch in Arba Minch.’ That’s remarkable, considering it took us roughly 6 hours to travel from Awassa to Arba Minch (Awassa is 300km south of Addis Ababa, and Arba Minch is another 270km south of Awassa). I look forward to a completed road and efficient transport.

The first Moringa we noticed was just south of Sodo, which is 150km south of Awassa. A local household had surrounded their huts with a few Moringa stenopetala trees (unless otherwise specified, ‘Moringa’ in this article can be assumed to mean Moringa stenopetala, as it is the most common and native variety to Ethiopia).

The lady said that she mixes the leaves in her family’s diet, but does not sell them. She was aware of some of the nutritional qualities of the plant, mentioning that she believed it was good for blood pressure. Ironically, a lot of the local people mentioned Moringa’s ability to cure diabetes or help with blood pressure. Most of the studies I have read focused more on the high levels of protein, calcium, potassium, vitamin A and C, iron and omega 3,6, and 9 fatty acids – all of which may be good for treating diabetes (I have not a clue) – but reports did not emphasize that diabetes patients could be treated with Moringa.

Further, this lady said that she sells the seeds for 20 birr (about $1.75 USD) per kg (2.2 lbs.) to a man who has requested the seeds. She did not specify for what purpose the seeds were being bought. She said each of her trees yields 2 kg. of seeds per year. Her 13 trees thus generate an extra 520 birr per year.

While not certain, I would estimate her household income not to be more than 250-300 birr per month. Assuming household income is 300 birr per month, the Moringa seeds generate over 12.5% of her annual income while simultaneously providing shade for livestock and nutrition for both the family and livestock. Across the road, her neighbor had roughly 30 Moringa trees in a small orchard which bordered a field that is generally planted for corn and teff. This year, the field was left fallow because the rains failed. Both of these ladies’ husbands work as day laborers on the road construction crews.

As we approached Arba Minch, which is at a lower altitude and likely has had more rain, the Moringa trees were fuller, with larger, greener leaves. South of Arba Minch, in the Dherashe valley (altitude is 1200m), the trees were extremely lush. We lucked-out and found a farmer, her name was Kasawa, who was selling her Moringa to a passing mini-bus, which would then take it to market in Konso.

Kasawa agreed to sell us a ‘bundle’ for 50 birr, after some negotiations. Later, I discovered the local price to be closer to 40 birr for a bundle. All things considered, that’s not a bad ‘ferenge’ price (price for foreigners) and it at least gives me a starting point to base financial projections on. Kasawa tells me that five trees will yield a ‘bundle’ every week. If it rains, the trees yield twice as much per week. Kasawa owned 10 trees, which she picked once per week – 5 were picked for the Monday market in Konso, and 5 for the Thursday market.

The tough part is there’s no exact science to what constitutes a bundle. I’m guessing it is likely based on the amount that someone could carry on his or her head – the alternate method to using a mini-bus to get your Moringa to the Konso market is loading it on your head and putting one foot in front of the other. From where we bought our Moringa, that is about a 35km (21.7 miles) uphill hike with over 40kg (nearly 90 lbs.) on your head. No walk in the park, and time intensive.

We bought the Moringa from Kasawa at 8:30am, and it was picked fresh that morning. Later, in Awassa, I learned from Ato Girma, who once worked for over five years in the Arba Minch/ Dherashe/ Konso area, that the locals are extremely hard working and honest, though they prefer to work early in the morning and late in the evening to avoid the midday heat. I would guess the women started picking our Moringa around 4am that morning.

In the Dherashe valley, the Moringa was planted sporadically throughout fields that are currently planted in corn. In addition to selling the leaves, the locals also use the trees as a perch from which to sit and protect their corn from birds and other animals. Evidently, there is no demand for the seeds in this area, and no one was harvesting them or selling them at the Konso market.

Upon reaching Konso, we finally treated ourselves to a breakfast of eggs, beg tibs (cubes of sheep meat), and traditional coffee and then headed straight for the market. The market was what you would expect of any local market in Ethiopia – a little of this, a little of that but mainly in-season fruits, vegetables, grains and wheat with people mulling all about buying and selling. It was easy to spot the Moringa. It was piled in large green bundles in the shade. One hand-sized bundle sells for 2 birr (about $0.16 USD). According to the market ladies, that is enough for one family (ie, 7 people) for a day (two meals) – the Moringa leaves are mixed into the local dish called kurkufa.

After the market we were fortunate enough to run into Habtamu, a friend of Ben’s. Habtamu is from Konso, though he grew up in Arba Minch, and recently graduated from Awassa University with a degree in Environmental Health. He now lives and works in Konso. Habtamu was exceedingly gracious with his time and knowledge. He described how Moringa is incorporated into every meal in Konso.

“Without Moringa, kurkufa is not eaten in Konso,” is how Habtamu put it.

Habtamu then introduced me to his cousin, Kusse Gelebo, who farms Moringa, among other crops. Kusse told me he has 30 trees. The trees collectively yield two harvests per week, though a tree is only picked every other week. Kusse also farms sorghum, peas, teff, cotton and cassava.

Of note – I saw Moringa wood for sale in the Konso market. Branches were being sold for 15 birr per branch. The branches were intended to be used to make ladders. Likely not a bad business, considering how fast Moringa grows (3-5m per year).

Back in Arba Minch I looked-up Petros, at the Kale Heyewet Church, who is known for selling ground Moringa. To my knowledge, he is the only supplier of ground Moringa leaves in Ethiopia, though there very well may be others. Petros is extremely knowledgeable of Moringa and was a great help. I purchased 1kg of ground Moringa Oleifera from him for 85 birr.

Petros proceeded to tell me more about how he purchases Moringa and the demand for his product. He says that he was introduced to the benefits of Moringa, and Moringa Oleifera, by a German organization called Anamed. Petros rents 6 Moringa Oleifera trees for 800 birr per year. Additionally, he has 12 of his own and there are over 20 additional Moringa Oleifera trees at the Kale Heyewet Church compound.

Petros says that one of his Moringa Oleifera trees is harvested three times per year and that the yield per tree is generally between 1-2 bundles, depending on the rain.

In a good month, he generates about 500 birr per month selling ground Moringa (some of which is the stenopetala variety, but most of which is the oleifera variety).

I found it hard to believe that anyone would even know about his business, as the church was hard to find and on a bad road. Not to mention the benefits of Moringa are not all together that well known throughout Ethiopia.

Petros informed me that once, Ethiopia Television had done a special on him and that is how some people have come to purchase the Moringa from him. I can only imagine what he could do if he had the capital to invest in advertising. He informed me that most of his customers were from out-of-town, generally Addis Ababa, and that the locals in Arba Minch had little interest in Moringa. Petros, however, is evidently optimistic about the demand for Moringa. He has purchased land which he intends to use to grow Moringa seedlings.

After briefing Petros and purchasing a kilo of ground Moringa Oleifera from him, it was high time to make our way back to Awassa.

As is obvious, the trip was highly informative. It was encouraging to discover that it is very likely possible to purchase the leaves in decent quantities from smallholder farmers – who, by the way, are known for their environmentally friendly agricultural practices (a lot of the hillsides are terraced and the farmers grow a wide variety of crops). That is not to say they couldn’t benefit from additional training and collaborating in best practices as regards eco-agriculture, but it was apparent the farmers are cognizant of protecting the land which sustains them.

There appears to be at least a small percentage of the population that is aware of the nutritional benefits of Moringa and has incorporated the fresh leaves into their diet. With proper advertising, a quality product, and consistent supply it may very well be within the realm of imagination to believe sufficient demand could be derived from an adequate portion of the population in Ethiopia, and possibly abroad.

I hope to now experiment with drying and grinding the Moringa leaves we purchased in Dherashe. The next step is to see if I can find a lab and doctor/ specialist to test the nutritional properties of the ground Moringa to ensure it is as healthy as advertised. I would like to compare the qualities of Moringa Stenopetala with the advertised qualities of Moringa Oleifera. I’ve heard the nutritional benefit is essentially the same, but we’ll see. Further, I would like to ensure the ground product, as compared to fresh leaves, is sufficiently nutritious.

Kus beu kus, or bit by bit, as they say…

JTV
Awassa, Ethiopia

Pics from the South

I’ve posted some pics from Nachi Sar National Park, which is located between Lake Abaya and Lake Chama, just outside of Arba Minch in southern Ethiopia. The purpose of the trip was to learn more about how the local populations surrounding Arba Minch and Konso use Moringa trees. A more in-depth report will follow shortly. Until then, enjoy the pics.

JTV
Awassa, Ethiopia

Mighty Moringa in the Marketplace: Enormous Opportunity, Enormous Challenge

Highlights:
  • The Moringa tree is believed to be one of the most nutritious plants on earth (see bullet-points below).
  • It is a fast-growing, hardy tree that has multiple uses, including nutrition for humans and livestock (from leaves and stems), oil extraction (seeds), as a growth hormone for other crops, as a bio-fuel crop, for reforestation, and as green, all-natural fertilizer, among other uses.
  • Moringa stenopetala variety is native to southern Ethiopia.
  • What, if any, are the market opportunities for this tree – specifically as concerns nutrition?

A few weeks ago I was out in the garden here at SABG when Mr. Röschli introduced me to the Moringa tree. He said its leaves were among the most nutritious vegetables in the world, and that I should ‘just look it up on the internet, you’ll see.’

Well now, that’s quite a statement. Immediately I went to work to learn more about this obscure tree. Here’s some of what I’ve discovered thus far…

A report by Trees for Life Journal claims that, gram-for-gram, Moringa has:

–           7X the vitamin C of oranges

–          4X the vitamin A of carrots

–          4X the calcium of milk

–          3X the potassium of bananas

–          2X the protein of yogurt

Further, Lowell Fuglie of the Church World Service reports, ‘For a child aged 1-3, a 100 g serving of fresh cooked leaves would provide all his daily requirements of calcium, about 75% of his iron and half his protein needs, as well as important amounts of potassium, B vitamins, copper and all the essential amino acids. As little as 20 grams of leaves would provide a child with all the vitamins A and C he needs….For pregnant and breast-feeding women…[a] 100 g portion of leaves could provide a woman with over a third of her daily needs of calcium and give her important quantities of iron, protein, copper, sulfur and B-vitamins.’ [1]

Interestingly, this tropical, fast growing (3 – 5 meters/ year), drought resistant, and hardy tree (zones 9-10 on the USDA hardiness scale) thrives in the same areas of the globe where malnutrition is most prevalent. Seems it was put there to serve a specific purpose.

From what I’ve read, nutrition is only the beginning. A high quality, edible vegetable oil – supposedly comparable to Olive oil – can be extracted from the seeds of Moringa, which contain roughly 40% oil. Historically, Moringa oil was used in lubricating watches and was then referred to as Ben oil. The oil has also been used in ointments (because it retains delicate scents), as well as in making quality soap.

The leaves of Moringa can be pressed to obtain a juice that, when mixed with 32 parts water and sprayed on fruits and vegetables, acts as a growth hormone. Yield increases of between 25-30% have been reported by Nikolaus Foidl and others when using Moringa as a growth hormone.[2] Moringa shoots can also be plowed under and used as a natural fertilizer to prepare soils for other crops (because the tree is fast-growing, the seedlings can be plowed under after only 25 days). The seeds, and the presscake leftover after oil extraction, can be used to treat turbid water.[3] Finally (well, I’m sure there’s uses of this plant that I have left out, but these are the main highlights), the plant makes a strong fodder for livestock – especially meat and dairy cattle. A study by BIOMASA reported milk yields and weight increases of 30% when Moringa leaves constituted 40-50% of feed.

Naturally, the next question in my mind was what, if any, are the market opportunities for this plant? And, just as important, how do you increase its adoption among the rural community in Ethiopia to increase health, nutrition, land stewardship, and income generation?

As for the market opportunities, at this point Moringa appears to garner a small, but growing, niche in the health and nutrition supplement market. An online search yields a few companies, most from India, but one from the US, that offer varying products based in ground Moringa leaves and espoused for their nutritional benefits. As a naïve consumer without prior knowledge of Moringa, however, I would give little thought to ever purchasing any of these products. For one thing, the nutritional claims seem outrageous (even though, after brief research, there are at least plenty of others saying the same things, and the claims are not out-of-line with the statements I’ve made above). Additionally, the websites do not project trustworthy, upstanding, reputable companies with which you would want to do business or purchase from – especially if you’re purchasing an edible product. Just visiting the websites gave me a queasy feeling about Moringa, and the online marketplace for this incredible plant. Maybe it was the way the organizations projected themselves and their products. Nevertheless, they turned me off.

Many of the India based companies would not even provide a price – you had to specify a quantity, and request a quote via email (I hate giving out my email address to unknown organizations, even though I did, and after four days I am still waiting on the quote). The US based company doesn’t make me want to purchase their product any more than the India based companies do, and it seems they are trying to build sales through a pyramid model – providing commission for ‘distributors’ based on sales and recruiting other ‘distributors’. I generally detest the pyramid sales model, which to me comes across as pestering and not reputable – if you have a quality product that will really enhance people’s lives, word-of-mouth, customer service, integrity, and a well-branded product line should suffice.

When considering the market for Moringa leaves, my initial thought is that there are two main markets – one in the developed world and one in the developing world. In the developed world the potential market consists of the ‘health conscious, organic, fair-trade, pro small-holder famers’ demographic. In the developing world, the potential market is primarily the millions of people who live on $2/ day or less and that are in need of extremely affordable nutritional supplements. The developing world would also yield a more upscale, educated market similar to the developed world target market, though it is much smaller (but growing). Targeting the higher-end clientele in the developing world could increase adoption among those at the base of the pyramid by making the product appear more mainstream. I don’t know how else to describe the market I am envisioning, but hopefully that gives you an idea of the prospective demand I envision.

Obviously, this leads to two very different price points and marketing strategies, but I believe one enforces the other. I have often thought about the specialty coffee market when trying to develop my thoughts on what a real Moringa market and supply-line would look like. Though the specialty coffee industry has its flaws, some end operators in this market do it well (or at least appear to – check out 3 Cups in Chapel Hill, http://www.3cups.net). By doing it well, I mean they value their customers, the in-store and online customer experience, help build customer knowledge of the product(s), and promote the small-holder farmers from whom they take great pride in purchasing from at fair prices. Thus, they connect the customer, the product, and the farmer in a way that enhances the well-being of all.

Moreover, coffee is not only consumed by those in the developed world who frequent coffee shops such as 3 Cups. While 3 Cups sources many of its coffee lines from Ethiopia, the local people surrounding these production areas also consume coffee themselves. Granted, there is an export grade and a domestic grade coffee, but the difference is hardly noticeable. I believe there could be a similar demand for Moringa – an export grade powder, and a domestic grade powder. That way, you can vary the price point and ensure that those who may be most in need of the nutritional benefits can afford the Moringa powder. Further, the more popular the product becomes, hopefully the more people will plant it in their own home gardens to ensure their families’ health.

Challenges abound in creating an essentially new market. First of all, introducing a new food/ nutritional product, especially in the developed world, requires overcoming regulatory hurdles. Extensive testing would likely have to be done in order to be accepted by a regulatory agency such as the Food and Drug Administration. Though, finding at least one US based company selling Moringa powder based drinks leads me to believe that some of these hurdles have been overcome.

Beyond overcoming regulatory hurdles, there are challenges associated with sourcing sufficient quantity and quality from small-holder farmers. As has been the case in the specialty coffee industry, the market can and will drive this.

I believe, however, there would need to be extensive training conducted to improve organic land management, water management, and cultivation practices (specifically drip irrigation systems, composting, and ecologically diverse farms). This ensures a higher quality product, while simultaneously increasing environmental stewardship among small holder farmers – absolutely critical to any long-term plans. Likewise, this should be incorporated into the marketing strategy so as to inform consumers that their purchases are reinforcing agricultural practices that must be followed if the world hopes to ever feed its growing population in a manner that nourishes both humans and their environmental resources (as the former cannot long exist without the later).

On this note, some glowing reports have been written concerning the agro-forestry practices of the Konso people, who cultivate Moringa in southern Ethiopia.[4] Regardless, best practices for cultivation must be determined and the market should demand these practices be followed in producing the desired end-product. Reputable organic certification (likely an enormous challenge in and of itself), as well as fair trade certification may also need to accompany an organizational guarantee which defines the farming practices the organization deems acceptable when purchasing Moringa. These practices should be centered on an eco-agriculture approach to farming. Eco-agriculture works to simultaneously meet three goals: a) conserve a full complement of native biodiversity and ecosystem services, b) provide agricultural products and services on a sustainable basis, and c) support viable livelihoods for local people.[5]

The next challenge is meeting quality control standards for export, both in product and packaging. More information is also need on the difference between Moringa Stenopetala variety (native to Ethiopia) and the Moringa Oleifera variety (grows in Ethiopia, but not extensively, and is native to India). It is believed that both varieties are highly nutritious, but most testing has been conducted using the more well-known Moringa Oleifera variety. Additional information is also needed concerning Ethiopia’s regulations in the food and drug industry.

On Wednesday I will be travelling down to Arba Minch and then Konso on Thursday to see if I can purchase Moringa leaves as well as some seeds. I will try to dry the leaves and grind them into a fine powder (for personal consumption/ testing). This will at least give me an idea of the price point, and an opportunity to speak to locals who have long believed in the benefit of Moringa and have experience in cultivating it. I will keep you all up-to-speed via a post-trip debrief and pictures.

JTV
Awassa, Ethiopia


[1] ‘The Moringa Tree’ by Dr. Martin L. Price, 1985, revised by Kristin Davis, 2000.

[2] ‘The Potential of Moringa Oleifera for Agricultural and Industrial Uses’ by Foidl N., Makkar H.P.S, and Becker K; Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, 2001.

[3] ‘The use of Moringa oleifera seed as a natural coagulant for water and wastewater treatment’ by Dr. Geoff Folkard and Dr. John Sutherland, 2001.

[4] ‘Konso agriculture and its plant genetic resources’ by J.M.M. Engels and E. Goettsch, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

[5] ‘Understanding Ecoagriculture: A Framework for Measuring Landscape Performance,’ Louise E. Buck, Jeffrey C. Milder, Thomas A. Gavin, Ishani Mukherjee, 2006.