Building a business case on the ‘miracle tree’

The moringa may be Africa’s most underestimated tree. “But it is nothing less than a miracle tree. We call it the ‘tree of life’”, says Hugo Stam, founder and CEO of MoSagri Lda, a social enterprise that is developing Mozambique’s new moringa-based agri industry. The tree, a rich source of nutrients and high-value products, is the key element in a business model for Mozambique and – possibly – other African countries.

The moringa tree is a common sight in the Mozambique countryside. In fact, there is nothing common about the moringa. Its leafs, bark, root and seeds are rich in nutrients that can enrich local diets and help solve malnutrition issues. The tree can also play a role in countering Mozambique’s food insecurity. Also, the tree offers the base material for a great number of high-value export products for the food supplement and cosmetics industry.

Tree core of business model

“The moringa tree is at the core of MoSagri’s business model”, says Hugo Stam of MoSagri in Lumbo (Nampula province). The company, established in 2011, is currently owned by four Dutch corporate shareholders; Cefetra, Koninklijke de Heus, BPH and Maropa. “Knowledge institutions like the Dutch Wageningen University and HAS University and Unilurio (Universidade Lurio) in Mozambique are actively involved. Together we work on the R&D and capacity building around the different aspects and elements of the moringa value chain. The enterprise is involved in growing, processing, marketing and exporting.”

Protein, minerals, vitamins

Moringa contains protein and minerals as well as very high levels of vitamin A (ßeta - Carotene), B, B1, B2, B3,B12, C, D, E, and K. Qualities that offer economical value and can become a rich source of business opportunities. MoSagri’s moringa leafpowder is being sold as a food supplement, in loose powder and in capsules. Moringa leaf powder and moringa seed meal can also serve as feed ingredients. Furthermore,  moringa products are reportedly being used as a medicine, for treatment of high blood pressure diabetes and ADHD syndrome. Moringa roots contain a very high level of magnesium and sodium. Therefore, moringa root powder is reportedly used to play an important role in fighting/mitigating the negative effects of arthritis.

Finally, the oil is a base product for the cosmetics industry, and is used by companies such as Schwarzkopf, L’Oreal and Body Shop. Hugo Stam adds that the oil is also very suitable for cooking, as its properties are very similar to olive oil. “You can even use the leaves as a herbal tea, eventually blended with other herbs to improve taste.” Stam indicates that MoSagri welcomes the input of new knowledge partners in this and other areas.

Good food

He explains that the people of Mozambique profit directly from the development, in more than one way. “The tree offers good food, with the proteins, minerals and vitamins that are lacking in the current starchy diet of many Mozambicans, that mainly consists of tapioca, cassava and mais. Moringa leafs can be cooked and prepared in a way that is similar to spinach.” Together with the World Food Programme and with local authorities, MoSagri plans to raise the awareness of the important role Moringa can play in the local diet, via schools, hospitals and community centers. “This will both raise demand for Moringa in communities, offering an incentive to grow the tree commercially, as a crop.”

Plantations and processing facility

MoSagri currently exploits two moringa plantations in Mozambique; a 2 hectare experimental moringa plantation in Lumbo, in the district of Ilha de Mozambique; a 1000 hectare moringa plantation is under development in Naguema, in the district of Mossuril. The company also operates a moringa processing facility where MoSagri moringa products are produced and packed.

The ‘tree of life’ is set to have a great future, and has the potential to have a positive impact on Mozambique’s impoverishment regions. “Together with our stakeholders and with local moringa growers, we intend to build a sophisticated and sustainable agribusiness. The aim is to produce high yielding crops and to sell the products to the domestic, regional and international markets.”

In the longer term, the MoSagri business case may also work in other countries. “We hope to prove that the concept can work for them. With the right partners and with new knowledge and expertise, Moringa can be part of the future of countries like Malawi, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.”

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