Philippine Moringa: The Golden Green Industry*

February 2010

Maximiano Darel M. Africa
Researcher
Center for Food and Agri Business
University of Asia and the Pacific


Moringa, commonly referred to as "Malunggay" in the Philippines, is an exceptionally nutritious vegetable tree. It also grows in Malaysia, Thailand, India, West Africa, and even cultivated in the United States (US). In many cultures throughout Asia, the culinary and medicinal uses of this tree (e.g. bark, fruit, leaves, nuts, seeds, tubers, roots, and flowers) are deeply ingrained in the community.

Two of the most common species of Moringa and particularly the easiest to grow and reproduce are Moringa oleifera and Moringa stenophylla. These varieties are heat-resistant, can survive even in hostile terrain and need practically little attention. In the Philippines, the leaves are widely eaten by lactating moms, much like spinach, and are a popular ingredient in chicken tinola (soup).

Moringa was considered as a lowly backyard vegetable tree before its multiple economic uses raised domestic and international interest. It has actually been dubbed as the "wonder tree", the "miracle tree", and the "most nutritious plant in the world" that can, among other things, help address the problem of malnutrition.


Please Take A Bowl

There are several reports claiming that weight by weight, each ounce of Moringa has the calcium equivalent of 4 glasses of milk, the vitamin C content of 7 oranges, potassium of 3 bananas, 3 times the iron of spinach, 4 times the amount of vitamin A in carrots, and twice the protein in milk, but this information needs to be confirmed. Stringent laboratory procedures to test the nutritional content of Moringa are, however, costly. In an article, Dr. Lydia Marero of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) cited that a cup or 100 grams (g) of cooked Moringa leaves contains 3.1 g protein, 0.6 g fiber, 96 milligram (mg) calcium, 29 mg phosphorus, 1.7 mg iron, 2,820 mg beta carotene, 0.07 mg thiamin, 0.14 mg riboflavin, 1.1 mg niacin, and 53 mg vitamin C (Table 1). However, not every Filipino appreciates the bittersweet taste of Moringa, and making its taste more appealing, especially to kids, is also a consideration.

Table 1. Nutritional Content of a Cup of Moringa Leaves
Nutrient Amount per cup
(100 grams)
Protein 3.1 g
Fiber 0.6 g
Calcium 96 milligram (mg)
Phosphorus 29 mg
Iron 1.7 mg
Beta carotene 2,820 mg
Thiamin 0.07 mg
Riboflavin 0.14 mg
Niacin 1.1 mg
Vitamin C 53 mg

Source: Food and Nutrition Research Institute

There are also some testimonies on the antibiotic and antifungal properties of Moringa from individuals who consume it regularly. The vegetable is also believed to prevent the occurrence of various chronic ailments like cancer, heart, and kidney diseases, but these need further clinical verification. In a study led by the Moringaling Philippines Foundation, Inc. (MPFI), 40 grade school students who were fed with Moringa pan (bread fortified with Moringa powder) for 3 months recorded weight gain, less absenteeism, and more concentration in class. But another trial on a bigger group (at least 2,000 participants) and a longer period (about 1 school year) is necessary to confirm these findings.


Lowly Tree, Big Benefits

Moringa is one of the world's most useful trees, as almost every part of it can be used for food or has some other beneficial property. Various research efforts are currently focused on food fortification to utilize the nutritional value of Moringa, and its medicinal potentials.


Food Fortification

Moringa leaves are loaded with vitamins, minerals and protein. The leaves are used in the fortification of sauces, juices, spices, milk, bread, and instant noodles. However, the volume of Moringa powder produced locally is inadequate and unstable. This can be attributed to the insufficient volume of planting materials and sub-standard quality of Moringa powder. Many processors import cheap quality powder from India and Africa where imports cost around P300 per kilogram (/kg) compared to the P1000/kg produced locally. But local producers are not totally on the losing edge, according to Ms. Bernadette Arellano of the MPFI, since the imported powder is brown in color and sun-dried; the leaves lose most nutrients upon sun-drying. Processors still prefer the locally-produced powder which is green, air-dried and has the essential nutrients well-preserved.

In a hectare planted with 3,000 trees of Moringa, about 2,000 kg of fresh leaves can be harvested weekly which translate into 200 kg powder if processed. Fresh leaves sell at P10/kg while dried/powdered leaves cost P1000/kg. The first two hours after harvesting is crucial to Moringa since microbes like E. coli and Salmonella proliferate during this time. Leaves should be dried or processed within the time frame to produce powder with good quality and less microbial load.


Medicinal potentials

Some international groups who conduct medical missions in the Philippines are now exploring more sustainable outreach procedures. One of these is infusing Moringa in the diet and lifestyle of poor communities since the vegetable is cheap, and filled with essential nutrients that can help boost health.


Seeds for Moringa Oil

Oleifera is a Latin term which means "oil-containing". Moringa seeds yield 38-40% edible oil (known as ben oil) which is clear, odorless, and resists rancidity. It is used in the manufacture of lubricants, cosmetics, and perfumes. The chemical composition and physical properties of ben oil are also suited to the high-end market given the oil's high oleic acid content and other nutritional benefits. Unfortunately, there is no established ben oil industry in the country but key industry players look forward to getting a chunk of the international market in the future.

Moringa is also used in animal feeds supplementation, and a cheap alternative to purify water. The white flesh inside the seeds of moringa when crushed can be used as flocculant.


Products

A myriad of Moringa-infused products have been developed since the plant was touted as the "wonder tree". And because of the versatility of Moringa, its tree parts can be easily processed and incorporated into a wide array of products - from food supplements, tea, cosmetics, water flocculant to bio-ethanol and ben oil (Table 2). Some Moringa-flavored ice creams and smoothies are also being sold in some malls. Moringa-flavored ice cream using carabao milk was also a famous treat during the recent Panagbenga Festival in Baguio City. Other food products enhanced with Moringa include pandesal (salted bread), polvoron (a native delicacy made of flour, sugar and milk), camote muffins and fettuccine. The Terra Wellness Spa in Pasig City offers the Coco-Moringa facial, infusing Moringa as an anti-aging ingredient. Meanwhile, women from Aliaga, Nueva Ecija are known for making noodles mixed with indigenous crops like Malunggay. The opportunities from Malunggay-based products seem bright and key players are eyeing to penetrate the international market.

In terms of product development, consumers may expect a soluble Moringa powder in the next few years. A company is now planning this type of Moringa powder, different than the insoluble powder in the market that does not mix well with water. Some Japanese investors also expressed their interest on Moringa oil and its many health benefits.

Table 1. Partial List of Companies and their Moringa-based Products, February 2010
Company Brand Product
Altermed Corporation (Corp.) Pro-Lacta Malunggay Capsules Malunggay capsules (bottles of 100 at 350 mg per capsule)
Ardent World Incorporated (Inc.) Ardent Products Age-defying Anti-Oxidant Moringa-O2 Beauty Bar, Age-defying Anti-oxidant Moringa-O2 Body lotion
Barrio Fiesta Manufacturing Corp. Barrio Fiesta Horseradish Leaves Packed Malunggay leaves
Basic Necessity Fresh Malunggay leaves Vacuum-packed fresh Malunggay leaves
CARICA Herbal Products, Inc. Malunggay Capsules Capsules (350 mg)
Eastmed Pharmaceutical, Inc. Lactimax Malunggay Capsule Capsules (325 mg)
Filtrite Inc. Phil-Supreme/ Monika/ Maynila Horseradish Leaves Malunggay fresh leaves (227 g per pack)
First Vita Plus Marketing Corp. Amazing Moringa Products 3 in 1 Shampoo (250 milliliters (ml) bottle), Feminine Secret Foam Wash (60 ml bottle), Purity 3 in 1 Soap (125 g bar), Oil of Life (massage oil, 20 ml bottle)
Gandang Kalikasan Inc. Human Nature Human Nature's Moringa Organic Face Wash (50 and 100 ml bottles), Human Nature’s Moringa Organic Face Toner (100 ml)
Health & Prosper Corp., Limited Veggiecaps Moringa Capsule Capsules (30 and 60 capsule bottles)
LVE World LVE Moringa Capsule Capsules (1 bottle contains 60 capsules at 500 mg per capsule)
Mariano Marcos State University Marketing Malunggay enriched food products Cup cakes, bars, noodles, pastillas, polunggay (polvorones de
Center Malunggay), gallugay (galletas de Malunggay), crostini, ice cream
Metropolitan Pharmaceuticals Corp. NATALAC capsule Capsules (250 mgg)
MICHRI International Trading Chrimi Products 8 in 1 Moringa Health Coffee, 7 in 1 Moringa Health Choco, 7 Herbs Moringa Health Soup, Moringa Lotion (120 ml and 70 ml), Moringa Beauty Soap (15 g and 125 g bar), Moringa Detergent Soap (250, 500 and 1000 g packs)
Monde Nissin Corp. N-Riched Lucky Me Instant Mami Chicken tinola flavored noodles with Moringa
Orich International Traders, Inc. Zumo Digest and Relax Juice Drink Juice powder concentrate
Prosperity, Inc. Elfav (El Favorito) Malunggay ice cream
R.L.N. Malunggay Herb Tea Mfg. Sun Angel Herb Tea Malunggay Herb Tea
Ricky Reyes Hair Salons Energizing Malunggay Shampoo and Conditioner Shampoo and conditioner
SECURA International Corporation Moringa powder Fortificant in breads, pastries, sauces, noodles, etc.
Viviendo Philippines, Inc. Malunggay tea and personal skin care products Coconut tea with Malunggay, body lotion, massage creams, hair creams, massage oil, lipstick, lip balm, etc.
Vleaf Inc. Moringamint Malunggay herbal tea and capsules
Worldwide Entrepreneurs, Inc. Moringa Plus Moringa capsule, soap, coffee and iced tea

Source: Market Check, Company websites, DA-One Stop Action Center


Government and Private Sector Initiatives

The Philippine Moringa industry is slowly being developed with the help of the government and private sectors. One of the pioneers is the Department of Agriculture (DA) Biotechnology Program Office (BPO) which started the advocacy on the health, industrial and medicinal potentials of Moringa in 2005. Shortly after that, the Biotechnology Information and Organization Network (BIONet) Philippines was established through the Biotech for the Media and Advocacy Resource Center (BMARC) and the DA who provided the funding. BIOnet Philippines is not just designed for Moringa but for all agricultural commodities with biotechnology potentials. Its main thrust is poverty alleviation through industry clustering and bringing the growers closer to the market through its BIOCommerce centers. BIOnet encourages farmers to make sure they have a market before engaging into Moringa cultivation.

Other government agencies with Moringa projects include the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), the National Agricultural and Fishery Council (NAFC), the Department of Heath (DOH), and Department of Education (DepEd) (Table 3).

There is also the Moringa Growers Federation of the Philippines Inc. (MGFPI), a private sector group that pursues what it calls the Malunggay Bionegosyo Project. Part of the project is to establish model farms (5 hectares each) in different areas. BIONet Philippines also supports the MGFPI. Key industry players like the MPFI and the SECURA Plant Genetics are also active contributors. Moringa nurseries and repositories were established in Pampanga, Pangasinan, Tarlac, Negros Oriental, Zambales, Camarines Sur, Nueva Ecija and Isabela (led by the private sector).

Another major project of the DA together with the Aktibong Kapatiran Tungo sa Iisang Bayan (AKTIB) and the Asian Center for Grassroots Communication and Advocacy is the "Moringa in the City Project". The urban farming campaign is designed for the poor communities in Manila. Communities were given Moringa seedlings which they can plant in their backyards or any available land in their barangays. It was initially launched in Metro Manila, and other metropolitan areas in the country, including Zamboanga del Norte and Davao City. Likewise, the DOH in the Davao region launched its "Malunggay sa kada baranggay" (Moringa in every village) project.

Table 3. Partial List of Government Programs and Private Sector Projects on Moringa
Agency Programs/ Activities
BAR Included Moringa in its Indigenous Plants for Health and Wellness Program and identified Moringa as a priority crop for propagation
BPI Designed a technology (patterned after the practices in Nicaragua) for farmers involving biotech practices for the rapid propagation of Moringa Conducts various researches to diversify the uses of Moringa and upgrade the quality of its leaf powder
DOH Utilizes Moringa in its feeding programs with meals like Malunggay fortified lugaw (rice porridge), together with the National Nutrition Council
NAFC Published a booklet on indigenous vegetables including Moringa, together with the BPI Endorses Moringa leaf meal as feed supplement for dairy cattle, with BAR
DepEd Promotes Moringa-infused recipes in schools
MGFPI. Manages the Malunggay Bionegosyo Project
Moringaling Philippines Foundation, Inc. Conducts different activities to promote better Moringa cultivation and marketing
SECURA Plant Genetics Establishes Moringa nurseries and repositories
AKTIB and Asian Grassroots (in partnership with DA) Implements the Malunggay in the City Project

Source: Various government agencies; News Archives; Personal Interview


Challenges

The government and the private sector are now taking the next step of crafting a national blueprint for the Moringa industry. There are some policy gaps that need to be addressed. One of these is establishing a set of good agricultural practices and stringent regulations to guarantee the quality and safety of local Moringa products.

The second Malunggay National Congress held in November 2009 revealed that most of the raw material produced by growers is not suited to the quality standards of processors. In the local arena, the challenge starts with addressing the great demand for planting materials like seedlings and stem cuttings. Furthering the tissue culture of Moringa for faster propagation seems to be the solution. Thus, there is a need to align the practices of farmers such that they would be able to produce Moringa that suits the quality standards of processors.


What Lies Ahead

Moringa is now regarded as one of the most promising crops in the country. This leafy green has been considered as a wonder tree next to coconut, and became the "it" vegetable in no time. Cultivation and processing of Moringa greatly expanded in the recent years to supply the emerging local and international markets. There is also a widening interest among farmers on its global opportunities, but there is a need to fully educate farmers especially on the technical parameters and requirements that come with Moringa cultivation as a promising enterprise.

The Moringa sector is touted as the "golden green industry" and the government is pinning a huge optimism given its potential to improve nutrition, enhance food security and more importantly, further rural development. If the sector's would-be industries (Moringa oil, animal feeds, health and wellness products) were to blossom, Moringa farming could be a very promising enterprise for farmers, as well as a new source of nutritional and medicinal benefits to the rural and urban communities.


References:

  • Arellano, Bernadette. Moringa Philippines Foundation, Inc. Personal Interview, February 2010.
  • Benavides, Jesus, Alex Rall, David Salamon and Jose Torbay. Moringa Oil Market Outlook. 2008.
  • Biotech for Life
  • DA Biotech Program
  • Go, Ian. DA unit funds Malunggay BIONegosyo project. Biolife magazine (2009, Issue Number 1), p. 28.
  • Personal Interview, DA Biotechnology Program Office.
  • Petalcorin, Gaudencio, Ph.D., Biotechnology Information and Organization Network (BIONet). Telephone Interview, February 2010.
  • Philippine Information Agency
  • Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) - Biotechnology Information Center
  • The Medicinal Magic of Malunggay. Unilab Consumer Health News, November 2007.
  • Various company websites.
  • Yap, Lim feed 200 poor children with Malunggay-fortified porridge. The Daily Tribune, January 2009.

* Published in the February 2010 issue of the Food and Agri Business Monitor, a monthly magazine of the Center for Food and Agri Business, University of Asia and the Pacific, Pasig City, Philippines.