Agricultural cultivation of moringa

Maja Berden Zrimec
Anteja
Published in
4 min readJun 4, 2021

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If you are desperate because your agricultural land is dry and nutrient-deficient maybe you should think about cultivating moringa. Moringa oleifera, currently the most researched moringa tree, grows best in the temperature range of 25–35 degrees C, under direct sunlight, at an altitude around 500 m, and in slightly acidic to alkaline soil (pH 5.0–9.0). Nevertheless, it can tolerate temperatures up to 48 degrees C, only 250 mm of rain, frost in winter, and a wide variety of soil conditions (1). In East Africa, it grows at altitudes up to 1350 m, but can be found even higher - at 2000 m in Zimbabwe (2).

The use of moringa is surprisingly wide. You can use it for fighting malnutrition, as nutritious fodder for your farm animals, water purification, and fertilizer. Its substances are already used in natural cosmetics. The oil from pods is highly praised for cooking and at the same time in the perfume industry for the extraction of fragrances and active compounds from difficult sources, like flower petals.

Moringa oleifera

Cultivating moringa

Moringa can be cultivated inexpensively and environmentally friendly. Once its root system is established, it is quite easy to maintain. The roots penetrate deep into the soil to find water and nutrients, which makes moringa more tolerable to the harsh environmental conditions (3). Consequently, the need for fertilization and irrigation is significantly lower compared to many other agricultural produces. Fast-growing and high capacity to resprout after the harvesting is additional features that make moringa superior to many crops.

Moringa produces high amounts of dry matter: 4.2 to 8.3 tonnes per hectare, depending on the fertilizer, season, and climatic conditions (3). Moringa cultivation on one-hectare land can yield approximately 3 tonnes of seeds which ultimately results in approximately 900 kg of ben-oil, while 3 tonnes of soybean seeds yield 600 kg oil (4). The productivity of the Brazilian genotype of moringa was estimated to be 45 tonnes of pods per hectare (1). The oil yield of 258 kg per hectare was recorded from the Indian cultivar (PKM-1), grown in the subtropical northwestern region of Argentina, after 3 years of the plantation (1).

Planting

Moringa plants can be started from the seeds or stem cuttings which also develop a rich root system. Seeds can be sown directly on the field at the beginning of the rainy season or in the nursery during the dry season (2). The initial planting can be quite dense as the production rises with the higher densities. For example, it has been reported that the produced biomass per plant was higher when the planting density was increased from approximately 49,000 to app. 198,000 plants per hectare (3). The reason could be that plants grow higher and expand more when they must compete for the resources in the dense canopy (3). This doesn’t always happen, so it is reasonable to test it beforehand. It should be also taken into account that more plants need more resources (fertilizers, water), so it might not be economical or environmentally friendly to exaggerate the number of plants.

Another important factor is that higher planting densities (>1,000,000 per hectare) are difficult to maintain due to the laborious harvesting procedures (3). Some studies indicated that the optimum planting density for moringa crop is 250,000 plants per hectare (3). Such an approach resulted in 80,200 and 17,600 kg of fresh and dry biomass per hectare yearly in Nicaraguan conditions, although the highest yields resulted from the densities of 750,000 plants per hectare in the first year and 500,000 plants per hectare in the second year (5). Over a longer period, the highest biomass was obtained when moringa plants were planted in the narrow spacing (5 × 15 cm), because the number of leaves produced per plant increased with time (3).

Harvesting

The optimum harvesting period was reported to be between 35–75 days (3). The harvesting frequency varies mostly due to climatic conditions. In Ghana, maximum biomass production was obtained when moringa leaves were harvested after 40 days, while in Nicaragua optimal frequency was 75 days, which yielded a maximum of 100,700 kg per hectare of fresh and 24,700 kg per hectare of dry biomass (5).

Moringa trees start bearing fruits at an age between six and eight months, with a low fruit set in the initial one to 2 years, however, the yield increases in the subsequent years (1). In the meantime, you can exploit leaves, stems, and flowers as a good source of nutrients, minerals, and bioactive compounds for a bunch of different purposes.

Sources

1. Saini R.K., Sivanesan I., Keum Y.S. (2016) Phytochemicals of Moringa oleifera: a review of their nutritional, therapeutic and industrial significance. Biotech 6:203; doi 10.1007/s13205–016–0526–3

2. Jacques A.S., Arnaud S.S.S., Fréjus O.O.H., Jacques D.T. (2020): Review on biological and immunomodulatory properties of Moringa oleifera in animal and human nutrition. Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy 12(1): 1–9; doi: 10.5897/JPP2019.0555; and the references within.

3. Nouman W., Basra S.M.A., Siddiqui M.T., Yasmeen A., Gull T., Alcayde M.A.C. (2014): Potential of Moringa oleifera L. as livestock fodder crop: a review. Turk J Agric For 38: 1–14; doi:10.3906/tar-1211–66; and the references within.

4. Koul B., Chase N. (2015): Moringa oleifera Lam.: Panacea to several maladies. Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research 7(6):687–707; ISSN : 0975–7384; and the references within.

5. Sanchez NR, Stig L, Inger L (2006) Biomass production and chemical composition of Moringa oleifera under different management regimes in Nicaragua. Agrofores Sys 66: 231–242; doi: 10.1007/s10457–005–8847-y

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Maja Berden Zrimec
Anteja
Editor for

PhD in biology, content writer, senior researcher and project manager, algae expert