AGRIBUSINESS: Retired banker mints coins from moringa tree farming

Mr. Nahashon Moturi harvests moringa leaves in his farm. PHOTO/Nyang'au Araka, The Scholar Media Africa.

Until he discloses his age, you cannot fathom that Nahshon Moturi was born more than seven decades ago.

With a ready smile, a relaxed face, a firm handshake Moturi gladly welcomes his visitors into his Onyalo village home on the outskirts of Migori Town.

Moturi who hails from Kisii is one of the famous and most sought after farmer whose main crop is moringa trees.

“This is super food,” Moturi says as he plucks some leaves, throws them into the mouth and chews them.

Indeed, moringa has been described as a wonder tree and a super food due to its numerous uses, including being a vegetable.

He happily says that the secret to his ‘youngness’ despite the advanced age is his regular consumption of moringa products.

“I came to Migori to work in 1970 and liked this place. I was lucky to buy this piece of land in 1973 and settled here,” Moturi who retired from the banking sector in 1986 says.

Interestingly, it will take you ages to trace Moturi’s home. Many people know him as Moringa and this is the name you will have to mention when you need to be shown the way to his home.

He was introduced to moringa farming in 2006 during a biofuels sensitization program which was sponsored by the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (Kenya), Icraf.

“We were growing jatropha but soon discovered that moringa could produce more products than it,” Moturi said.

The Ministry of Energy trained a number of farmers and also gave them moringa seeds but some later abandoned the crop when an officer who introduced it was transferred.

“I did not give up. Thanks to advances in technology, I was able to research on the internet and my dreams were reassured,” he said.

Through the support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), they started value adding moringa.

“Although leaves are eaten as vegetables, we also make powder from the barks, roots and tubers,” he said.

The tree is scientifically proved to be highly nutritious. Its food supplements include vitamins A, C, B complex and amino acids.

Moturi, whose business is incubated at the Kenya Industrial Research and Development (KIRD) Kisii branch, says he packs his products in sachets whose prices range from Sh100-Sh200 at the farm, and Sh250-Sh300 at the supermarkets. There is another sachet which goes for Sh1,000.

300 farmers have come together and formed the United Multipurpose Cooperative Society Limited, Moturi says.

“Its seeds are a source of biofuel. It can light a candle without smoke because its energy is green,” Moturi says.

Demand for moringa is extremely high especially in the cosmetic industry yet farmers especially in Migori and Homabay where it does well continue to live in abject poverty because they have not seen it as a possible standpoint to wealth.

“Access to formal markets is difficult due to many requirements before the products are approved. I plan to improve the packaging to make it more attractive,” Moturi says.

Moringa products are popular because they boost immunity in humans and are highly effective for HIV-Aids victims because they improve the CD4 count, according to scientists. They also regulate sugar levels among diabetics, among other ailments.

“To plant moringa, you can use the seeds directly or have a nursery from whence you can transfer the seedlings into the farm,” Moturi who has 300 trees of the crop says.

Tending the crop entails pruning which enables it to produce more leaves. Twigs are eaten by animals and enable dairy cows increase milk production.

Unlike Moturi and a few farmers, many people basically abandoned moringa farming years back since they did not have enough knowledge about it.

Nahashon Moturi displays dried moringa seeds in his house. He said the seeds are a source of biofuel and have many other uses. PHOTO/Nyang’au Araka, The Scholar Media Africa.

Indeed, this farming has challenges like difficulty in accessing formal markets, sustainability of supply and scarcity of information on maximizing gains from it.

“Research scientists are not well funded so they do not do practicals. They come to us in the name of research but rely on our information without giving us any in return,” Moturi says.

He says the government should fund scientists so that they help farmers make the best use of the crop, for he believes it is not yet fully exploited.

“I think we can make tablets from moringa. But scientists should try this,” he says.

He noted that there was need for both the county and the national government to create awareness.

“Several health problems can be solved by moringa. In fact, every person should have it in his garden.” Moturi said.

The trees do well in loamy soils with hot climates like along the Lake basin.

The farmer laments that although there is a huge demand for moringa in the foreign market, the procedures of getting the products off the Kenyan borders are prohibitive.

“Accessing foreign markets requires things like the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, Organic Certification and the Good Agricultural Practice Certificates which are a challenge to our local Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs),” he said.

Moturi says there is need for support after KIRDI is through with incubating them.

“We plan to plant moringa on 10 acres of land in Makarda area in Nyatike constituency soon. However, this is not sufficient for the market that we have identified. For example, China wants 20,000 tonnes of powder monthly, yet we cannot produce even a quarter of this,” he said.

Save for sugarcane and tobacco whose fortunes have dwindled over the years, Migori County does not have many cash crops and malnutrition is common.

“This is a wonder tree. It is a super food that can eliminate malnutrition and boost mother-child survival for HIV-Aids victims,” he said.

Moringa tree takes six to eight months to mature and has a 30-40 years lifespan.

During rainy seasons it is harvested on weekly basis while in the dry spell, one harvests it twice a month.

Moturi believes the crop has not been given the attention it deserves in Migori and time is ripe for the school-goers to be taught about it.

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Mr. Araka is the pioneer reporter and editor at The Scholar. His satirical segment, The Idler's Corner is very popular with our readers. He is also a published novelist and biographer.


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