Ever heard of the moringa tree? This fast-growing, drought-resistant tree with its plethora of benefits is slowly gaining interest from farmers in South Africa.
Moringa production has a worldwide market of about $95 billion and there is an opportunity for farmers to benefit from this growing market.
Experienced banker, financial advisor and moringa farmer Seniren Naidoo shares some important guidelines to consider when planning to cultivate moringa in South Africa.
Understanding your general land requirements is important, says Naidoo. Well-drained soil is key and should be slightly acidic to a neutral pH level. This is so that it caters to nuances such as drainage and water holes. This is especially important when the land is on a steep slope.
“Moringa does prefer a sandy loamy sand, however, it does grow in about a 50% clay content.,” Naidoo explains.
Farmers are, however, advised to conduct a soil test to assess its suitability for moringa cultivation and make necessary amendments if required.
“Moringa requires a bit of water of water every three days for the first three months,” says Naidoo.
Moringa is drought-tolerant once established, but it benefits from regular watering during its initial growth stages. Adequate irrigation may be necessary, especially during dry periods.
Once the tree develops a tap root, which is at the bottom of the plant, the tree stores its own water and becomes self-sufficient. If the tap root is well developed the plant can go without water for a month, potentially longer, and still be in the best state.
“It is one of the most viable crops whereby you don’t require drip irrigation, or a farmer being on the field,” explains Naidoo.
Moringa generally thrives in tropical and subtropical climates. In South Africa, it can be grown in various regions, including Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, and parts of the Eastern Cape and North West.
Experts encourage choosing a location with plenty of sunlight because, for germination and growth, moringa requires a medium temperature of 20 degrees Celsius. And if you have fruit requirements of the plant, a temperature of 30 degrees is required.
“You will find in some of the provinces they experience frost and cold winters. Which is why we don’t plant in the likes of Johannesburg or frost areas where the plant would die during winter,” explains Naidoo.
Understand your market
Naidoo says understanding the moringa market is key to the success of a moringa farm.
South Africa’s moringa industry is a multi-million Rand industry. “Covid-19 boosted the market because moringa is a superfood. I found in 2020 lots of demand for its nutritional value and the fact that is assisting with many deficiencies as well,” Naidoo says.
Finding a market such as a supplier is critical and understanding the cost of the moringa market is even more important.
“It is an interesting market,” says Naidoo. “Most of the production of moringa is not consumed fresh like your traditional vegetables. At this very moment, you can’t sell moringa on the open market.”
Risks and challenges
Pests and diseases play a major role in the success of a moringa farm. Keep an eye out for common pests and diseases that can affect moringa, such as aphids, caterpillars, and fungal infections. Implement appropriate pest control measures if necessary.
Some pests and diseases to look out for include:
- Red spider mites cause the plant to go yellow;
- Termite goes after the tap root;
- And even birds pecking at the stem of the street
It is important to note that moringa farming can be adapted to various scales, from small backyard gardens to commercial plantations.
Before starting a moringa farm in South Africa, it’s advisable to consult with local agricultural experts, extension services, or agricultural universities to get region-specific advice and recommendations tailored to your specific circumstances and goals.
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