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A ‘disease fighting’ superfood from India can control a $7-billion global market. If we move now.

After firing up the economy and sentiments for some 19 months, exports dipped in October. The government said global factors would make the going tougher, but added it was looking for bright spots to ease off the pain. One way to drum up exports is moringa.

More commonly called drumsticks, moringa seems to have found a mention on the list of superfoods that people around the world are looking for. Since the Covid outbreak, this pursuit has turned some of the attention towards India. One reason was because of a retweet by a Norwegian politician. Erik Solheim — a former Norwegian minister and former Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme — shared an old video on Twitter about the “disease fighting superhero”.

Mothers and grandmothers across India have been saying the same thing about the moringa tree, whose fruit, drumsticks, and leaves are cooked.

Alternative for world and India

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, all parts of the moringa tree–bark, pods, leaves, nuts, seeds, tubers, roots and flowers–are edible. The leaves are rich in protein, vitamins A, B and C, and minerals. More importantly, the tree produces leaves during the dry season and during times of drought, and is an excellent source of green vegetables when little other food is available, it said. Moringa products have antibiotic, antitrypanosomal, hypotensive, antispasmodic, antiulcer, anti-inflammatory, hypo-cholesterolemic, and hypoglycemic properties, added the FAO.

Moringa is helpful in treating various illnesses such as chronic inflammation, gallbladder, kidney infection and diabetes. It has phytoactive compounds that are known to reduce chronic inflammation, says Carrie Waterman, an assistant researcher at the Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis. She has spent around 20 years researching moringa. “Inflammation is related to a multitude of diseases, both chronic diseases and also HIV, malaria… Moringa has traditionally been used to treat many diseases for thousands of years.” There have been some clinical studies that suggest that dried moringa leaf powder can lower blood glucose levels, she adds.

These claims and the need to find more natural substitutes for a healthier lifestyle are fuelling a rising interest in the tree. There is great demand for moringa products in the US, Germany, Canada, China and South Korea. Fortune Business Insights estimated the global market size for moringa products at $7.7 billion in 2020.

This trend spells good news for India because the tropical tree is grown in many parts of India, particularly the south. According to a 2019 report by agri exchange portal of the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), India is a prime producer of moringa, at 2.2 million tonnes of tender fruit a year.

The scope to grow this market is huge. APEDA said the country can fulfil 80% of the global demand. As of now, says an APEDA spokesperson, India’s organised moringa export players only fulfil some 6% of the demand. Organised means traders who export only moringa products; some export moringa along with other products in the medicinal plants or other categories.

Catch ’em early

It is too early to say moringa had made a mark in the export basket. The signs of promise are visible, but small. However, it is the opportune time to fan the embers so that the export of moringa and moringa products can power up at least a segment of the agriculture and trade economy.

Let us look at the developing export trends. On December 29, 2020, Telangana-based Medikonda Nutrients exported 2 tonnes of organic moringa powder to the US. It was the first time moringa was exported as an organic certified powder. Before 2020, moringa powder was exported but not as organic certified powder, says the APEDA spokesperson.

Amar Medikonda, founder and CEO of Medikonda Nutrients, says they exported about 530 tonnes of moringa products in 2019. The APEDA spokesperson says approximately Rs 20 crore worth of moringa was exported during 2020-2021 and Rs 15 crore in 2021-22. She clarified that more comprehensive numbers were not available because of gaps in data collection due to Covid, but added that these numbers were only of the organised sector.

Medikonda says: “After the pandemic, due to increased health and immunity concerns, and the general shift to consume more immunity-boosting and nutritious superfoods, we have observed a 20% growth in demand for moringa products, especially in 2021 and 2022.”


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