Drumsticks beat back poverty in arid zones

Easy money Moringa needs minimum care and sells well G KARTHIKEYAN

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Superfood moringa is proving to be a boon for subsistence farmers

Names like PKM 2, Bhagya KDM 1, Rohit 1, Siddhi Vinayaka.... may not ring a bell among urban readers, but those engaged in subsistence farming will recognise these as the high-yielding varieties of Moringa olifera (drumstick tree).

This tree (called murungae in Tamil) has been around for ages, but ever since the world at large claimed moringa as a superfood, thanks to its nutritional qualities, its acreage in the country’s arid and semi-arid zones has been rising as farmers recognise it as a crop that never fails despite climate change.

Three years ago, software engineer Thangaraj Nadar and his brother, an employee at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant, planted the moringa’s PKM 1, PKM 2 and ODC varieties on their 20-acre ancestral plot in Karungulam village in Tamil Nadu’s Nagercoil district; they have since been harvesting 20-25 tonnes of drumstick pods per acre every year.

Super benefits

“Moringa needs minimum care, and if grown in large areas it can fetch a good price from markets like Mumbai, Hyderabad or Chennai,” says Nadar, whose firm Indian Agro has tied up with a Malaysian company to sell moringa seed and leaf powder.

Moringa leaves have seven times the Vitamin C of oranges, four times the calcium of milk, four times the vitamin A of carrots, three times the potassium of bananas, and double the protein of yoghurt. With over 92 nutrients and 46 natural antioxidants, as well as anti-inflammatory compounds it has been dubbed the ‘miracle tree’. Additionally, the moringa oil, harvested from the pods, is much sought after in the formulation of skincare products.

Belagavi-based SC Kamate, principal of Shaikh College of Engineering and Technology, is among those won over by the moringa’s goodness. On the advice of an agriculturist-scientist friend he planted Bhagya KDM 1 variety on his one-acre plot at Hattarwal village in Chikodi taluka, and reaped a profit of ₹2 lakh. “My farm is in a drought-prone area and I was looking for a crop that can provide me a sustainable income. I planted 700 saplings of moringa and also had an intercrop of soya bean last monsoon, which gave me additional income,” says Kamate.

Rain or shine

The drought-prone Saurashtra region in Gujarat, too, is enthusiastically embracing the moringa — farmers in Bhavnagar, Junagadh, Morvi and Rajkot now favour this tree known for its gnarly trunk and thick foliage. The person credited for this development is the agripreneur Neetu Patel of Atkot village in Rajkot; she has motivated over 1,200 farmers to cultivate moringa in their combined holding of 1,200 acres.

Her firm, Satyam Enterprises, provides saplings, holds farmer workshops, trains them in making organic fertilisers and, above all, has a buy-back agreement with them for the produce — namely leaves, seeds, greenwood and so on. Among her customers are names like Patanjali Ayurved, Himalaya Drug Company and Zandu Pharmaceuticals. “We offer the growers a fixed price and are adding 120 acres of moringa and aloe vera cultivation every year,” says Patel, an Arts graduate who has a 40-member team working for her. “Additionally, we have set up biogas plants that run on greenwood and built cold-storage units in village clusters, thereby helping farmers improve their livelihood.”

In the districts of Nashik, Wardha, Raigadh, Kolhapur, Sangli, Buldhana, Satara and Pune in Maharashtra, ask any farmer who has taken up sewaga (moringa in Marathi) farming which variety he prefers and the answer is most likely to be Siddhi Vinayaka, a variety developed by Pune-based Vinayak Bawasakar. A recipient of the Krishi Bhushan award, Bawasakar is the innovator of plant growth regulators that totally eliminate the use of chemical fertilisers.

Demand comes home

Farmer Tanaji Vitthalrao Jadhav had in 2012 planted 700 saplings of the Siddhi Vinayaka variety on his 30 guntha (3,036 sq m) plot in village Turori of Umarga tehsil in Osmanabad. Between February and May, he harvests around 36 tonnes of moringa pods, fetching him around ₹1.40 lakh.

“As the variety is considered very tasty, I start receiving calls from traders as soon as the harvest season begins; consequently, farmers in Mangalveda, Pandharpur, Karmala, Hingoli, Beed and Tuljapur are increasingly taking to moringa farming,” he says.

The writer is an independent journalist based in Mumbai

Published on February 10, 2017

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