HYDERABAD: Plant nursery managers in Sindh have started to understand the growing demand and importance of moringa (oleifera) tree, because of its nutritional and medicinal value.
Nursery managers collect moringa seeds from neighbourhood trees and also buy from the local markets. Hundreds of plants are readily available for sale at the nurseries to meet the rising demand from the locals.
Alisher Hajano, associated with the government's social forestry department, near the famous Mayani forest, Hyderabad said, “It is only recently that this tree got popularity at a larger scale.”
Each nursery at the highway grows as much as 10,000 to 50,000 plants of moringa for contributing to annual tree plantation drives. Many people mostly use leaves and pods as organic food.
Hajano receives a number of people from different areas demanding two-five kilogram of fresh leaves to cure some ailments. He doesn’t own mature trees himself, and procures the product from neighbouring villages.
Moringa leaves are dried by these people at room temperature, to later use for curing some diseases. “I know many entrepreneurs in the neighbouring villages, who sell moringa fresh and dried leaves, powder and roots, which they prepare at homes and farms. They also consume fresh and dried leaves, pods and roots themselves as an organic vegetable,” he said.
In the past, people preferred planting neem and other varieties of fruit trees at home and workplaces, but now they prefer moringa trees because of its various uses.
Moringa tree saplings are available at almost all private nurseries for Rs20-80 each, depending on size and health.
Various government and non-governmental organisations have taken initiatives to tackle malnutrition via community-based management of acute malnutrition (CMAM). However, very few long-term interventions have been noted that are linked to building the capacity of local communities, especially in the areas of cropping, plantations and livelihood mechanisms.
After realising the importance of moringa in eradicating malnutrition, many organisations have taken different steps to promote this magical tree on a larger scale, while also disbursing knowledge and awareness about its usage as food and for curing health problems.
A report of Sindh Agriculture University (SAU) Tandojam shows that they had initiated a project in Tharparkar district, to address the issue of malnutrition. The university had planted 5,000 moringa trees with 500 households, believing in its nutritious value for both humans and livestock.
Residents of Thar Desert, due to inherent structural poverty, poor socioeconomic indicators and limited livelihood options, suffer from chronic food insecurity. Moringa tree is considered the best substitute to provide necessary nutrition to children under five, and pregnant and lactating mothers.
The report said that 5,000 mature trees would be sufficient not only for the communities’ own consumption, but also for their livestock. Apart from this, parts of the tree could be used to treat various diseases.
Muhammad Siddiq, leading Rural Development Association (RDA) in Mithi, Tharparkar district claims to have planted 5,600 moringa saplings in different areas of the desert. Some plants cultivated in 2017, have now matured and people have access to fresh leaves and pods to use as vegetables.
“It is a fast growing tree and the desert area is suitable for its plantation. It has also been proved one of the best solutions to tackle malnutrition on a sustainable basis,” he said.
There are more species of moringa, but oleifera is said to be more effective with medicinal properties. The tree is highly rich in nutrients, which are required by children under the age of five and pregnant and lactating mothers.
Reports show that these groups in the desert areas are at high risk of malnutrition. Moringa was one of the prominent trees of Tharparkar district decades ago, but it vanished due to continuous dryness, droughts and cleaning by local people.
Climate conditions as well as the land in Thar are suitable for planting moringa trees. There is also scope to use its medicinal and nutritional characteristics to address chronic malnutrition in the region on a sustainable basis. The tree can also support livestock, which is a main source of livelihood for the desert communities.
Tharparkar district holds six million livestock, both small and large animals. Dairy products are the main source of nutritious food for the desert communities. Shrinking natural resources are also impacting the number of livestock in the desert, which in turn affects nutrition in children and women. Moringa can help change that.
Use of moringa has increased, and can be measured from the fact that now people present its dried leaves and pods at dining tables with a variety of salads. However, there are no dedicated processing units for preparing moringa products. People on self-help basis are making powders, pickles, and other products from the moringa.
Jamshed Memon, a field assistant in agriculture, supplying moringa plants in bulk said now many people were sparing a piece of land to cultivate this tree. “Once moringa is planted, it can survive for more than 25 years. People can harvest its leaves twice a year for their consumption or for selling in the local market,” he said.
Memon said there was a need for value-addition to promote the usage of moringa. People also should be made aware of the importance of this tree in both rural and urban areas. “Parts of the tree, including leaves, pods, seed and roots are useful for curing different diseases, like cancer, asthma, and diabetes. It can also be used to protect the liver, removing stomach complaints, fighting against bacterial diseases, and making bones healthier,” he shared.