Some three kilometres from Chuka is Wahome’s Farm where thousands of trees sway in the wind.
To villagers, the 4,000 trees are probably meant to cool the semi-arid hot region.
But these are Moringa oleifera, among the most sought-after trees due to their many benefits.
By the time Mr Wahome Githui, 63 thought of the plant, he had tried his luck in subsistence farming to no avail.
He embarked on research and discovered Moringa oleifera in 2006.
He found out from reading and researchers that Moringa oleifera has countless benefits and is known by many names, including drumstick, miracle, ben oil and horseradish tree.
Mr Githui also realised the tree is fast-growing, tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, thrives in tough environments and can withstand severe drought.
Moringa oleifera is also rarely attacked by diseases and pests.
Getting seedlings was not easy then. He had to acquire them from the Kenya Forestry Research Institute, a State corporation with its headquarters in Muguga, Kiambu County.
One seedling went for Sh40 and Mr Githui had to bear all the costs, no mean feat for a “peasant”.
The spacing of the trees is four by four feet.
This, forestry officials told Mr Githui, would give the trees enough space and ensure they were watered properly.
It would also not pose any problems when applying manure.
In all, Mr Githui spent Sh300,000 on buying, transporting and taking care of the trees when they were still young.
A Moringa oleifera tree takes two years before harvesting begins.
“I am a pharmacist by training and had to be patient,” Mr Githui says.
He adds that he took the decision to go into Moringa olfeira farming because people in developing countries like Kenya often lack proteins and vitamins and the trees would be a good source.
“Moringa oleifera is an important source of essential nutrients and is known to combat malnutrition, especially among infants and nursing mothers,” he says.
“The tree is easily grown and managed. It is packed with nutritious health properties in almost every part; from the leaves, seeds, roots, flowers to the bark. It is useful for humans and animals alike.”
Dried Moringa oleifera leaves have lots of vitamins and minerals.
“Malnutrition is rampant in some counties and this leaves can be easily used to end the problem. They are also a great source of vitamin A, B, C, K and E,” he says.
“They contain protein, manganese, calcium and potassium.”
The farmer grows and processes the tree. To harvest a tree, Mr Githui cuts it at a 45-degree angle. This ensures fluids drain out fast and allows the tree to heal, he says.
After cutting a tree, he cleans it with water after which the harvest is rinsed.
The log is then put on wire trays under a shade to dry for a maximum of 24 hours. This also prevents rotting.
For consistency, sorting by hand follows.
This is followed by milling, after which the products that have a long shelf life are packaged into 250g and 500g containers. They sell for Sh650 and Sh1,300 respectively.
Mr Githui is quick to add that the most active ingredients are found in the leaves.
“Among the mistakes some farmers make is exposing the leaves to direct sunlight when drying. This denatures nutrients,” he says.
For the final product to have the right nutrients, harvesting has to be done properly.
The pharmacist’s final product is called “Momirac”, an acronym for Moringa Miracle.
He supplies to his customers countrywide. The customer bears the postal, courier or transport charges.
Mr Githui processes oil from seeds through cold pressing. He says the system allows the oil to retain the flavour, aroma, the nutritional value and valuable antioxidants.
He sells the processed oil locally but plans to go fully commercial next year.
In the Greek and Roman medicinal books, the golden yellow oil is described as useful.
“The oil is odourless and is packed with nutrients, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and anti-microbial, disinfectants,” he says.
“It is exfolicant and a preservative, among many other benefits.”
According to Mr Githui, the oil improves the liver, treats anaemia, arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, diarrhoea, fights kidney stones and can be used to calm hysteria.
MORINGA OLFEIRA ROOTS AND SEEDS
- In the rural areas, Moringa oil is extracted by boiling the de-husked seeds. Mr Wahome Githui says other parts of the tree like the immature green pods or drumsticks are prepared like the green bean while the seeds are removed from the more mature pods and cooked or roasted.
- The roots are shredded and used as a condiment with sharp flavour. Leaves can also be used as vegetables or dried and used as spices