Moringa For All Tastes

A plant rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals, with four times more beta-carotene than carrots, seven times more vitamin C than oranges and low calories. These are some of the characteristics of moringa, a tree originally from India brought to Brazil in the 60s – and which is currently found in all tropical and subtropical regions of the world. In the settlements near Corumbá (MS), Embrapa Pantanal is testing crops that seek to understand the 'tree of life' and determine the best ways to take advantage of it in Pantanal soils.

"Moringa has multiple uses. It was initially brought to our country as a beekeeping plant (since it produces flowers for most of the year), but it has many other potentials. Here at Embrapa, we use it in the production of hay for cattle and chicken feed, but the tree also produces excellent quality oil, recovers soils, is used in human food and for water purification - since its seeds precipitate bacteria and suspended solids", says Frederico Lisita, a researcher at the institution . He and Raquel Soares, who is also a researcher at the unit, are investigating the use of moringa and manioc in the manufacture of feed for rearing laying hens of the free-range type.

The ration

"The idea is to replace part of the corn and soybeans, which are used to feed the chickens, with food that the farmer can produce on the site, given that planting corn in Corumbá is very difficult (there are many birds in the region) and not there is local soy production on a scale that can be used for animals", says Raquel. The researcher indicates the use of moringa and manioc feed in an extensive breeding system, which keeps the birds free during the day. "We can provide moringa and cassava food in total or partial replacement of corn and soybeans and let them eat too.

The researchers developed a formulation that mixed dried moringa, bocaiuva flour and dried cassava root to replace up to 47% of the traditional corn and soy feed. "If the producer has a reasonable production cost, he will save not only on the purchase of food, but also on the logistics to obtain it", says the researcher. Also according to Raquel, the chickens treated with moringa and manioc feed maintained health and nutrition similar to those fed only corn and soy. She points out that alternative feed can also have the appeal of organic production. "There is no transgenic cassava or moringa. They are crops produced without pesticides with great ease, which has a great appeal for this type of market".

Human food

The leaves, green pods, flowers and roots of moringa can also be consumed by children and adults (in the case of the root, it is necessary to remove the bark, which is toxic. However, the root is edible and has a spicy flavor that is similar to radish, says researcher Frederico Lisita). By having fibers, the plant helps maintain the feeling of satiety. Rich in calcium, iron and zinc, moringa also fights free radicals and helps prevent aging, according to the researcher. Lisita also says that it works in the fight against hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity and increases immunity.

The undergraduate student in field education at the Federal University of Grande Dourados (UFGD), Jacqueline Saraiva, selected and developed some recipes with the plant. Using fresh or dried and crushed leaves, it was possible to make juice, pasta, cheese bread, pates, tapioca, cake and even moringa brigadeiro. "Because the tree has more calcium than milk, it can help lactose intolerant people consume the mineral," she says. Saraiva says that she usually uses the juice of the leaves mixed with water, a cup of fresh leaves or a few spoons of the dried material crushed in her recipes. "You can add moringa juice to the rice water, beat the leaves to make soup or sauté it like cabbage and eat it with feijoada. It is nutritious and delicious."

From the laboratory to the field

In the Taquaral settlement, several producers show interest in planting moringa. This is the case of Manoel Rodrigues, who has lived and worked in the region for almost 30 years. Like most of the local settlers, their production varies between agriculture and small-scale raising of animals such as chickens and cattle. "I haven't worked with moringa yet, but I'm delighted with this project. I want to use it for us and for the animals, in everything possible!", he says, enthusiastically. Edna da Conceição is also an old producer in the region. "We've already planted moringa, but we didn't know that it had all these uses, that it could be used for so many things".

Students Tiffanny Trindade and Alexssander Silva, undergraduate students in field education/natural sciences at UFGD, also got to know the plant's features with the work of Embrapa Pantanal. "I got interested and felt like planting in my house. Moringa has many positive points", says Trindade. Silva adds: "I wanted to learn this information to pass on there on my farm. We plant cassava to sell at fairs and work with chickens too, or milking cows. This alternative feed will help us when we can't use corn pure". For researcher Raquel Soares, disseminating data like these among small producers encourages their development. "Working with family farming strengthens local production", she concludes.