By Nkechi Isaac, Abuja
Moringa oleifera is a fast-growing, drought-resistant plant that belongs to the Moringaceae family. It is native to the Indian subcontinent. As a result of its properties, moringa cultivation has spread to many countries around the globe. The common names include moringa, drumstick tree, horseradish tree and ben oil tree or benzolive tree.
Research has shown that the different parts of the Moringa tree contain at least a beneficial nutrient or anti-nutrient useful to mankind. The fresh leaves from moringa are good sources of vitamins A, C and E.
The chief executive officer of Jola Global Industries, Dr. Moses Omojola said the main flavonoids in the leaves are myrecytin, quercetin and kaempferol in concentrations of 5.8, 0.207 and 7.57 mg/g respectively. Quercetin is found in concentrations of 100mg/100g as quercetin-3-O-β-d-glucoside (iso-quercetin or isotrifolin). It is a strong antioxidant with multiple therapeutic properties.
The chartered chemist pointed out it has hypolipidemic, hypotensive, and anti-diabetic properties, stressing that other important compounds found in moringa leaves are phenolic acids which are a sub-group of phenolic compounds derived from hydroxybenzoic acid and hydroxycinnamic acid, adding these compounds have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic and anticancer properties. The bioactive compounds are important in lipid heamostasis.
The essential oil expert said the oil content of de-hulled seed (kernel) is approximately 42 per cent. The oil is brilliant yellow, and it is used as a lubricant in machineries such as timepieces as it hardly deteriorates and become rancid and sticky. It is also useful as cooking and frying oil.
“Moringa seeds are also used in the cosmetic industry and for production of biodiesel while the seedcakes, can be used as green manure or as fertiliser. The flowers are used to make tea with hypocholesterolemia properties. The root bark has medicinal values and it is used for dyspepsia, eye diseases and to treat heart problems. The tap root of Moringa is used as a spice. The gum from the tree can be used in calico printing. The gum and roots also have antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties.
“Based on its properties, it is apparent that moringa is a plant with multifaceted potentials with socio-economic benefits that cut across food and nutrition, medicine, agriculture, ornamentals, environment, renewable energy, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, sanitary and hygiene etc. Their products also serve as secondary raw materials in numerous industries,” he said.
On his part, the director-general of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Prof. Hussaini Doko Ibrahim, said the numerous socio-economic potentials of moringa make it a versatile plant that can easily address part of the diversification agenda of the government and many aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), pointing out that this makes it imperative for RMRDC to ensure its sustainable development and the proliferation of its products not only for food security, enhancement of nutritional wellbeing of the citizenry but also for economic growth and promotion of economic activities in both the rural and urban centres across the nation, adding the plant thrives well in all the ecological zones of the country.
“RMRDC has played a leading role on the symmetric development of the moringa plant, ranging from awareness creation on its socio-economic benefits, domestication, boosting the cultivation of the plant, and development of SMEs for moringa processing and value-addition. Among the areas of council’s activities on the development of moringa locally is its collaboration with Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where R&D project is being conducted on the utilization of Moringa oleifera seed extract as phyto-chemical for the replacement of imported chemical (Alum), in water treatment for rural communities in Nigeria.
“The R&D result led to the development of a laboratory model of water treatment plant. Having successfully achieved this, the laboratory model was designed, fabricated and upgraded to 10,000 liters pilot scale plant in line with the requirements for food and nutritional products. The plant after test run, has been commissioned. After this, the coucil funded the work on oil and coagulant extraction from Moringa seeds for water treatment and generation of relevant data and analysis as relates to the water treatment plant with encouraging results. Research collaboration with the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was on agronomic evaluation, biochemical characterization and aspects of post-harvest quality assessment of twenty accessions of Moringa oleifera seeds,” he said.
To harness all the socio-economic benefits of Moringa, the RMRDC boss also said the agency organized a national summit on the Moringa development with the theme ‘Moringa oleifera, a local plant resource for achieving national growth and development at its headquarters in Abuja.
According to him, the proceedings of the event were distributed to relevant stakeholders for the implementation of the outcome of the summit, which are being implemented accordingly. The Moringa Development Association of Nigeria (MDAN) was inaugurated during the Moringa summit.
He pointed out the association was mandated to promote and coordinate Moringa development activities as driven by scientific research in order to tap potentials of the plant. MDAN has state and zonal chapters and RMRDC has been supportive of its activities and participation at the national agricultural shows and other events locally to enhance the association’s development.
Ibrahim said the council, under public private partnership (PPP) arrangement, partnered Salient Flowers, a horticultural firm in Abuja to raise 5000 planting materials which were distributed to small scale farmers, adding the council also provided some co-operative societies processing equipment for production of Moringa oil, which was designed and developed at Double Quick Investment Ltd, former Grace Fellowship Africa, in Biu, Borno State.
“To commercialize research findings on moringa, the council embarked on products development in collaboration with some private sector organisations. The pilot beneficiaries are the members of Moringa Development Association of Nigeria (MDAN). Through this, the council has developed moringa products, ranging from Moringa tea, tablet soap, leave powder, liquid soap, spices, milk, oil, root powder and a host of other products with stakeholders.
“The council also collaborated with Kuban Dambal Limited to establish a processing plant at Karu for production of eight products which include tantalizer spices, mixed spices, powder, cinnamon garlic and ginger powder and black seeds for nutritional and medicinal benefits. Among the on-going R&D projects on Moringa development the council is promoting the evaluation of safety and toxicology of the plant seed,” he stated.
He further said the council in collaboration with the University of Ilorin, Kwara State and John Hopkins University, USA, had carried out extensive research on various aspects of moringa utilization and development. The results confirmed that the polar extract of the seed contain phytochemicals. It however indicated that consumption of the seed at average doses predisposes users to wide spread necrosis of the epithelia cells of the kidney.
Research is continuing to firmly establish the effect of moringa seed and its toxicity (if any) on the development of rat fetuses in utero in order to cautiously extend the result to human beings. Likewise, the council, collaborating with the University of Ilorin would establish the impact of moringa seeds consumption and wellbeing on the teeming population of Nigerians who consume the seed as their major source of protein and the purported therapeutic benefits therein, especially in this COVID-19 pandemic.
He highlighted the third aspect of the experiment which is pharmacokinetic study of Moringa oleifera seed extract in animal models which according to him is also at an advanced stage, adding R&D work would be on the characterization of the Moringa oleifera Lam, and the seed cake for water purification: an appraisal of storage conditions and packaging.
Ibrahim further said the preliminary part of the study was carried out in collaboration with the Penn State University, USA and the bench experiment had been completed. The final aspect of the experiment is also at an advanced stage of completion.
“The council’s interest is to ensure a balanced development of the plant in Nigeria. This is being done in such a way that toxic components in any part of the plant are eliminated before consumption in view of its increasing importance for full benefit of Nigerians. The council is ready to partner with any investor or pharmaceutical industries in the country that are willing to invest in moringa processing and products’ development, not only for food supplements and drugs manufacturing, but also for a host of other products already highlighted,” he added.