A native leafy plant in Bangladesh, moringa or sojina is being promoted for having multiple nutritious benefits
Saba Homaira Ahmad has been suffering from chronic eczema since infancy.
Since last year, she has included moringa in her diet as a holistic approach to health.
She takes one teaspoon of moringa powder every day.
"When I regularly have moringa powder, my eczema is 'quieter.' The difference is evident when I stop using it," said Saba, an interior designer by profession, and a zero-waste lifestyle enthusiast.
She collects moringa powder from a grocery supplier. "Moringa is not a medicine though. It is food – a superfood with anti-inflammatory properties."
Moringa is a native and well-known tree in Bangladesh. It is also known as drumstick tree because of its long, green seed-pods.
Locally known as sojina, its seed-pods have been used as food in the country since forever.
There are not many people in the country who are not familiar with it.
At the same time, very few people know its true potential.
Moringa is a fast-growing leafy plant which is cultivated in the tropical and subtropical areas of Asia and Africa.
Without much labour and care, moringa grows widely in Bangladesh.
Numerous studies have established that the leaves and fruits of moringa are rich in vitamin C, protein, beta-carotene, calcium, iron and other minerals.
It boosts the immune system and prevents many diseases.
The use of moringa in traditional medicine is common in the Indian subcontinent and Africa.
With edible flower, seed, fruit, leaf and stem, moringa is labelled as a nutritional powerhouse, the leaves being the most nutritious part of the plant.
But so far, use of moringa leaves and other parts has not been popular in Bangladesh at all.
The plant bears fruits once a year, and its use in our country has been limited to eating the seed-pods as vegetable.
Recently, a small number of institutions, companies and individuals have started working on popularising and expanding the use of moringa through developing various products and marketing them.
The new ventures are not limited to promoting human use of moringa; rather, they are also focusing on its use as livestock feed.
Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute (BLRI) has been doing research on the agronomy, nutritional value and use of moringa for some years now.
"Moringa leaves can be used as food for livestock, and can replace concentrates (a feed used with another to fortify the mixture) by up to 70 percent," Dr Nathu Ram Sarker, director general of BLRI, told The Business Standard.
"Because of its high nutritional value, using it as cattle feed leads to increased nutritional value in milk. BLRI research saw a 35 percent rise in milk production, and one percent rise in milk fat when cattle were fed moringa," Dr Sarker added.
BLRI research also showed that moringa cultivation is three times more profitable than rice and jute production in the same amount of land.
In addition to using it in beef and dairy production, BLRI has determined moringa's suitability for goats, sheep and chicken.
"Adding one percent moringa in chicken fodder increases the quality of chicken meat," said Dr Sarker.
BLRI is continuing its research in various capacities.
BLRI's Fodder Research & Development Project funded a PhD research on moringa.
The candidate was attached with the Bangladesh Agricultural University.
Another researcher did a postdoctoral research on the plant whose placement was with the BLRI.
BLRI is also promoting its use as a human food.
It has signed an MoU with a company named Moringa Private Ltd, which produces and markets moringa tea, power and capsules.
Association of Land Reform and Development (ALRD), a non-governmental organisation, has also taken initiatives to spread the use of moringa as livestock feed.
Shamsul Huda, executive director of ALRD, said, "There is a dearth of pasture in our country, plus grass is not available all year round. Moringa can be an alternative, and scientists are saying that it is more nutritious than grass."
ALRD is now working to promote various uses of moringa through a dozen of its partner organisations active in 10 districts, Shamsul Huda informed The Business Standard.
Outside the organisational periphery, one individual's passionate role in rediscovering moringa in the country is noteworthy.
Rajib Parves, a development professional and agricultural organiser, has been working on promoting multiple use of moringa in Bangladesh.
His goal, in his own words, is "to provide nutrition, while creating employment opportunities for the poor."
"In the backdrop of high rate of unemployment in the country, livestock farming has seen a rise in the last 5/6 years. Moringa farming can meet the need for livestock feed and become a source of income for rural communities," Rajib told The Business Standard.
"Concentrates are not quite suitable for cattle, so they catch various diseases. Therefore, antibiotics are used. As a consequence, we have all read reports that harmful levels of antibiotics have been found in beef and milk. Concentrate feed is also costly. Use of moringa as livestock feed will eliminate this problem," explained Rajib.
Moringa has super diversified use.
It can also be used as growth hormone, and can replace chemical pesticides.
This nutritious plant is a superfood, and there is a growing international market for its products, Rajib mentioned.
He is currently making tablets, tea and pickle out of moringa.
He is also promoting green moringa smoothie as a nutritious, refreshing drink.
Pickle made from the seed-pods or drumsticks is good for pregnant women, according to Rajib.
When over-matured drumsticks stiffen up, its demand falls.
This is used in making moringa pickle, effectively saving the yield.
In every 100g of drumstick, there are 2.5g protein, 2g minerals, 2.87g fibre, 120 mg vitamin C, and 30 mg calcium, reads an advertisement of Rajib's moringa pickle, which he posted on a Facebook group dedicated to promote the green, leafy wonder.
Health and wealth
"Moringa can give you health and wealth," Rajib Parves said.
He made deals with contract farmers in Dinajpur, Kushtia and Chuadanga, who are now cultivating moringa in their croplands and producing silage for livestock.
Dried moringa leaves sell for Tk500 per kg, while the price of environmentally harmful tobacco is Tk150 at best.
Under a model project in Meherpur, women are earning money through this activity.
Someone with 20 moringa trees can produce six kg dried leaves per month, and earn Tk3,000.
According to Rajib's estimates, Tk1.5 lakh can be earned from one bigha land.
Encouraged by initial experiment results, Rajib imported two varieties of hybrid seeds from South India, where moringa is a staple vegetable.
One variety is meant for leaf production, while the other is for the fruit, which can be harvested three times a year.
He has now focused on producing moringa oil, and has collected a suitable variety from Africa for that purpose.
Inspired by Rajib's success, people from around the country are now collecting moringa seeds from him.
The Facebook group titled Sojinar Gunkirton (benefits of moringa) are attracting buyers and future producers of moringa products.
Meanwhile, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has also jumped on the bandwagon, and is promoting moringa in cow fattening programmes.