Country Moringa (M. oleifera or Murungai) remains one of the key vegetables consumed by Southern Indians. There are many delicacies being prepared from Moringa such as Sambar, Tamarind stew, Kurma, Poriyal, Aviayal etc. It can be said that there is no vegetarian party without Moringa at all. It is not only for its taste but also for its nutritive content including its high content of iron that makes Moringa as one of the best and important vegetarian delicacies.
As it is drought resistant to some extent it is suitable for farmers who have limited access to irrigation in their farms. That is why vegetable farmers still continue to cultivate it. Mr Sadayandi is one of those farmers and he has been cultivating Moringa for the past fifteen years, in Pallapatti village, Dindigul district.
Moringa due to less water
When we introduced ourselves to him while he was busy harvesting drumsticks from his farm trees he started sharing his story with us. “This is our native village. We have been doing cultivation since the times of our grandfather. I did not study well and therefore joined hands with my father in farming activities from my childhood. We have about 15 acres of land. We used to grow banana and sugarcane as the land was fertile and resourceful. As there was decline in water resources we decided to grow Moringa.
Moringa cultivation was not popular in this area fifteen years ago, the short variety of it too. Valayapatti village is the major grower of Moringa among the southern districts. I bought the stick seeds of Moringa from this village. Those sticks have grown into matured trees, providing rich yields for the past fifteen years”. He continued his story after the preamble.
Yield for fifty years
“There is no need for more water. If properly maintained after planting they will root deep into the soil and will grow, enduring droughts. If they are pruned properly they can yield for 50 years too. Though it can give drumsticks six months after planting, its yield can be considerably high only after one and half a year. It can yield thrice in a year. It’s one of the best crops that does not need much water and expenditure.
I was using chemical fertilizers and pesticides at the beginning. I got very good yield for the first three years but later the trees lost their leaves and flowers due to excess use of chemical pesticides. Therefore I switched over to organic farming. Almost for the past 11 years I have been doing organic farming only and also teach others about whatever I know about organic farming.
Hassle free sales
With regard to Moringa, we can sell all of its parts, leaves, bark, drumsticks and seeds. People come in search of them as they have high medicinal values. But I sell only the drumsticks. I have planted Moringa in 8 acres and the remaining 7 acres are filled with coconut and Moringa. Both are young and tender now. From the 8 acres of Moringa I harvest only from one acre and sell the drumsticks. With the intention of other farmers to grow Moringa I make air layering of its stems and sell the seedlings to them”. He continued to share the details of the yield of Moringa and income.
Rs 2000 from a tree
“If properly maintained, one and half a year after planting each tree will yield 200 kg in a year. One kg will be sold for Rs 10 – 150 and the price will jump high during marriage days. In general, returns will be very good during Jan-Feb. So, even if we consider one kg Rs 10, from a tree we could gain Rs 2000 from 200 kg. Based on that calculation, from 160 trees in an acre of land, the return could be Rs 3,20,000 in a year. Even if we deduct Rs 50,000 towards expenses the net profit will be Rs 2,70,000.
From the total trees in the farm, nearly one lakh seed sticks can also be generated. But from those sticks only 70,000 will be viable. One sapling will be sold for Rs 30 – 35. Even if it is considered to be Rs 30, I could earn Rs 21 lakhs from 70,000 saplings. Deducting 7 lakhs towards expenditure, I could profit 14 lakhs”. He shared his contentment.
“Without much hassle and even in spite of inadequate water resource I could not earn such a profit except from Moringa. For me it is the best crop for the common farmers. Besides, I am able to earn awards for ‘organic Moringa cultivation’. Thus he concluded with pride.
Short Moringa Vs Country Moringa – a comparison
There are two varieties of Moringa, short variety and country variety. There is more taste as well as medicinal value with country variety. Though the drumsticks look robust with short variety their life is only two years. The life of country variety could be fifty years. While short varieties are propagated through seeds, the country varieties are propagated through seed sticks.
No worry about selling
Even if there is no attractive market price there is no need to worry about it. They can be allowed to fully mature to gather robust seeds. From an acre about 240 kg of seeds can be gathered. One kg of seed is sold for Rs 1000 and what we could get from drumsticks can equally be gained from seeds as well.
Demand for leaves
There is more demand for Moringa leaves about which Sadayandi explained to us. “There is high demand for organically grown Moringa leaves and drumsticks, especially for the leaves than sticks. If the leaves are harvested drumstick yield will go down. Therefore farmers do not engage in selling the leaves. But those who aim for selling leaves can opt for dense planting of Moringa trees, with 5 feet gap in between. The leaves can be harvested for every 40 days. There are sellers for Moringa leaves in Madurai district. We can enquire about its demand locally and cultivate accordingly”.
Air layering method to get Moringa graft sticks
Following is the method of generating graft sticks through air layering.
Prepare enriched coconut fiber waste as described. Add little amount of Panchakavya, Azospirillum to the coconut fiber waste and allow it to be soaked for an hour. Then drain the water till there is no dripping but there is 40% moisture available with the fiber.
At the time of flowering, choose one of Moringa tree’s branch of thumb size and remove the bark in that area. Cover the peeled area with coconut fiber and wound it together with a polythene sheet.
After forty days, roots could be seen in the peeled area. That part can be cut and reared separately in a polythene bag filled with vermicompost. After 60 days of watering and maintaining the bag, it can be planted in the farm. We can earn through making grafts of Moringa”.
Moringa cultivation method
The lessons shared by Sadayandi about Moringa cultivation is described here.
‘It can be grown in any type of soil except acidic or alkaline types. After ploughing the land thoroughly keep a channel with a gap of 16 feet. At the centre of the channel dig a hole of one and half a feet depth with a gap of 16 feet in between. Based on this calculation there will be 16 feet gap in between the plants and between the rows. To each pit add three handful of farm yard manure, one handful of neem oil cake and vermicompost each. Plant country variety in each pit and irrigate it, followed by 3rd and 5th day irrigation. Then do it on weekly basis.
On day 20, add 200 g of groundnut oil cake at the base of each plant followed by irrigation. On day 40 and 70, prune the young and tender branches so as to facilitate more branches on the sides.
On day 120, once again prune the plant as per the growth rate. The tree will provide pods from 6th month onwards. There will be pods thrice in a year. Pods will be seen only for 40 days. Before harvesting the pods provide 200 g of groundnut oil cake for each tree. Similarly, after harvesting provide 30 kg of farm yard manure for each tree. Only if it is done properly the yield will be considerably more. There is no other maintenance required for it.
Pest and disease control
Experience of Sadayandi with regard to pest and disease control:
If there are holes found in the leaves it implies that there is worm attack. These worms cannot be seen with naked eyes. If the signs are seen it is better to spray herbal insect repellent on the plants till the whole plant is soaked with it.
Sometimes, there will be caterpillar attack. It can be controlled by spraying neem oil extract or soot from firewood stove.
There won’t be any disease attack if the trees are sprayed with Panchakavya every time before flowering. Through natural methods mostly there won’t be any pest or disease attack.
(This article written by Durai Nagarajan in Tamil for Pasumai Vikatan in Sept 2015 has been reproduced in English by V Amalan Stanley)