Growing a Miracle Tree - How Moringa is being used in Malawi to enhance food security
Through this GCRF project in partnership with Africa Growing, the potential of Moringa to contribute to scaled-up nutrition programs in Malawi was explored and a palatable Moringa formulation, which maintained the bioavailability of the nutrients was developed.
Making sure people have enough to eat is critical but countries like Malawi can face significant challenges in establishing food and nutrition security.
Lack of adequate nutrition is a critical concern, with 47% of children stunted, infant mortality at 11.2% (live births under five) and maternal mortality (675 per 100,000 births) one of the highest in the world.
While relief is available in the form of go-to cereals such as corn and soya, distributed by humanitarian or government agencies and NGOs, these don’t fully meet individuals’ nutritional needs.
Working with local food co-operatives and processors in Malawi, our GCRF project looked at a way to address this issue by establishing production of a high-protein, micronutrient rich crop that could be locally grown by smallholder farmers, and processed on-site to provide economic opportunities as well.
With local partners ‘Africa Growing Plc’ our research looked at Moringa oleifera’s commercial potential with the goal of bringing traditional, diverse diets back into the supply chain and opportunity for farmers to commercialise their produce and a replacement of imported goods with geographically feasible traditional plantations.
Better known as Moringa or the ‘Miracle Tree’, Moringa oleifera is a fast-growing and drought-resistant tree with multiple uses. As well as being highly nutritious, Moringa oil can be used as a food supplement, as a base for cosmetics, and for hair and the skin.
Our preliminary data showed Moringa leaves, which can be repeatedly and sustainably cropped were high in protein and fibre. The commercial source analysed was found to be extremely rich in beneficial bioactive constituents considered to contribute towards prevention of life-style-related diseases (type-2-diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer), as well as important micronutrients.
All these qualities make Moringa an ideal crop to meet nutritional and commercial needs of people in Malawi, not only as an additional source of food security but also a sustainable business model for local farmers and investors.
Although native to tropical and subtropical regions of South Asia, Moringa was also once a stable component of the traditional Malawian diet. It is well-adapted to the region, performing well in less-fertile soils, and being drought resistant and perennial, it is likely to be more resistant to climatic change.
However, a value chain analysis undertaken with an in-house economist in Zimbabwe found that while Moringa was commercially valuable, the value chain for producers was poor and its natural horseradish-like taste was also regarded as a barrier.
Through the partnership with Africa Growing, a new Moringa crop was able to be developed that removed the bitter taste, and the bioavailability of its nutrients was also improved – resulting in the development of a ‘nutraceutical’ product (food that also provides medical or health benefits) with significant commercial interest.
From this, a patent and initial private R&D investment of £150,000 has been secured, and a marketing strategy is now being developed. With additional GCRF funding, we were also able to partner with the Crop Technology Development Organisation in Zimbabwe, and hosted a workshop with a wide range of major NGOs (e.g. Ministry of Agriculture, WFP, ICRISAT), academics and business, resulting in a policy report and significant media coverage (prime time news and national press).
The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion UK fund to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.
This year £11.8m in GCRF funding has been allocated to SFC by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), up from £10m in 2018-19. Since 2016-17 GCRF has supported more than 400 projects led by Scottish universities, involving over 70 developing countries.
Professor Wendy Russell – University of Aberdeen - 17 Nov 2020