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The miracle of ‘malunggay’
By Ernesto Ordoñez
Last updated 03:08am (Mla time) 10/05/2007
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Close this MANILA, Philippines -- On Oct. 2, a day after he was appointed program director of the Department of Agriculture’s Ginintuang Masaganang Ani Program on High-Value Commercial Crops (HVCC), Dr. Rafael Espino called me to tell me his three priorities: Higher farmer income, better nutrition and increased food security.
When I was at the Department of Agriculture (DA), I had worked with Espino, who held the same position, in the early 2000s. At that time, he formulated a successful project where a combination of vegetable foundation seeds -- that would provide optimal vitamins and minerals for a family for a whole year -- were sold in packets for P10 each.
After he left the DA in 2002, he continued his work for small farmers, taking this project to Gawad Kalinga in the interim. He says he will pursue this project on a wider scale at the DA to benefit small farmers.
I mentioned to Espino the possibility of the vegetable “malunggay” to be included in this packet of seeds since it had so many desirable properties. Thus started our conversation on the potential miracle of malunggay.
Malunggay, or “moringa” to the rest of the world, has been promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the past 20 years as a low-cost health enhancer in poor countries around the world. Yet today, it is still relatively unknown.
“The sale of all forms of vitamins, minerals, and health supplements is a big business,” according to Moringa Zinga, a US company that promotes and sells malunggay products in capsules. “If you are a company selling hundreds of nutritional products, why would you sell a product that will wipe out all your other products? This is true for the pharmaceutical industries as well. These industries would rather that the general public remains ignorant about the moringa leaves.”
What exactly is the potential miracle of moringa? India’s ancient tradition of “ayurveda” states that the leaves of the moringa tree can prevent 300 diseases. Modern science confirms this basic concept, while scientific research has shown that malunggay leaves provide almost miraculous nutritional value.
Gram for gram, moringa leaves contain four times the calcium and two times the protein in milk. It also contains seven times the vitamin C in oranges, three times the potassium in bananas, and four times the vitamin A in carrots.
Aside from improving human health, there are other significant advantages.
In “The Moringa Tree” by Dr. Martin L. Price (http://www.echonet.org), he cites the benefits of moringa leaf extract as a plant growth hormone, the moringa shoots as green manure to enrich agricultural lands, moringa leaves as livestock feed because of its rich high protein content, moringa seed powder and the fresh cake left over from oil extraction as treatment for turbid water, moringa as a good live fence tree with its bark used to make mats and rope, and the compound in the flowers and roots of the moringa tree, pterygospermin, as a powerful antibiotic and antifungal remedy.
Espino says that it is very easy to grow malunggay. It is even drought resistant. But is it profitable?
When I looked for the financial returns of planting malunggay, I called up the DA’s Agricultural Marketing and Assistance Service (AMAS). Though they have average production costs and returns for 27 products, malunggay was not one of them. However, Director Alice Ilaga of the DA’s Biotechnology Program informed us that, for a hectare of malunggay, the estimated net income per year is P150,000.
For agriculture to flourish, it is important that it gets more investments. But investments usually come in if there is a promise of profit. The information on production costs and returns in the DA-AMAS database covers only 27 products. It was last updated in 2005.
There must be more funding to expand the product list to include important items like malunggay. Furthermore, because of its importance to potential investors, the list must be updated up to 2007. Interested parties may call DA-AMAS Director Francisco Ramos at 920-2216 to access their existing database and get valuable agricultural business advice from his staff.
The promotion budget for products like malunggay should also be increased. It is fortunate that, this week, malunggay is being promoted in a DA booth at the on-going Agri-Link Fair at the World Trade Center on Roxas Boulevard.
Other projects, like “Food Always In The Home” (FAITH), promoted by Dr. Florentino Solon (+63918 9175197), president for the last thirty years of the Nutrition Center of the Philippines, should also get more support.
Solon cites malunggay as the “most powerful and most wonderful” of the five vegetables that are recommended.
The potential miracle of malunggay should not just remain an illusion, but a reality that would meet the three objectives Espino has identified: Higher farmer incomes, better nutrition and increased food security.
The author is the chairman of Agriwatch, former secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, former undersecretary of agriculture, and former undersecretary of trade and industry. For inquiries and suggestions, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call or fax +632 8522112.