BY VINA MEDENILLA
Moringa or malunggay has been a backyard garden staple in many Filipino homes because of its nutritional benefits and adaptability to local conditions.
In celebration of Filipino Food Month this April, an online series of talks called the “Philippines on a Plate”, tackles different crops and dishes, including malunggay, to recognize the importance of local culinary heritage and how it shapes our identity as Filipinos.
One of the local malunggay industry leaders and resource person in the said event is Bernadette “Bernie” Estrella Arellano, founder and chairperson of Moringaling Philippines Foundation Inc. Arellano is also the owner of SBE Farms Enterprises Incorporated in Rosales, Pangasinan that is home to 6000 malunggay trees.
After realizing the health and economic benefits of moringa, Arellano became an advocate and a malunggay farmer herself.
A nutritious and useful vegetable
Moringa comes from the Tamil word “murungai” which means drumstick. It is due to moringa seed pods’ resemblance to a drumstick.
Arellano said that native moringa (Moringa Oleifera), the common variety in the Philippines and other tropical regions in Asia, is referred to as a superfood, queen of Philippine vegetables, and a miracle tree because all plant parts (from the fruit, stem, trunk, down to its roots) are edible and have their own purposes.
Aside from that, it is recognized as such because it also holds more vitamin C than an orange, higher protein than milk, and has higher potassium than that of a banana.
As an organic farmer, Arellano shared some techniques when cultivating malunggay. Here are the key points that she discussed during the webinar:
Propagation. Malunggay can be grown from seeds or cuttings. When growing from seeds, one will have to germinate it for a day. Place the seeds in a damp towel or tissue paper for 24 hours. Sprouts will be visible the next day. Afterward, sow them in a seed bag with vermicast, carbonized rice hull (CRH), and topsoil.
When growing moringa from cuttings, get less than a meter-long stem and plant it directly in the ground, Arellano added.
Soil analysis. For farmers who would like to venture into agribusiness, the first step, according to Arellano, is to have the soil analyzed. Bring a soil sample to the municipal agriculture officer (MAO), then wait for the feedback after a month. This is to ensure that the soil is free from harmful chemicals. Organic soil is a must to keep malunggay healthy and safe for consumption.
Distance. This depends on a farmer’s purpose when planting moringa trees. According to Arellano, at least two and a half meters between each plant is necessary if growing them for the seeds.
She emphasized that growing moringa can also be a profitable venture. In every kilo of dried seeds, one can make a liter of oil that costs from P5,000 to P15,000 each.
Sunlight. Malunggay trees love direct sunlight. During summer, Arellano said that watering them for a bit is okay, but note that they do not like too much water. “If the roots are soaked in water, they will die.”
Maintenance. To make the trees bloom and produce more leaves and seeds, Arellano recommends applying a kilo of vermicast every month.
In her case, when the rainy season comes, maintenance costs rise due to the constant need for weed control plus the necessary materials to perform it. She said in Taglish, “It takes a lot of time and [it is] labor-intensive, so moringa products turn out to be expensive because of maintenance [costs].”
As the industry widens, Philippine moringa is not only recognized on a national level, but it has also been gaining attention in the global market. Arellano explained that since this vegetable thrives best in tropical countries like the Philippines, demand for moringa in first-world countries is high, which is a great opportunity for Filipinos to produce moringa commercially.
For more information about the event, visit Filipino Food Month on Facebook.