A fast-growing multi-product tree, tolerant of most growing conditions, with its products in high demand across the world. Sounds like a no-brainer for investment, doesn’t it? This is Moringa, a tree that presents a range of opportunities for Australian agribusiness.
Moringa trees, which are native to sub-continental Asia, can be harvested for their leaves and pods which are used to produce tea, seeds, oil, and leaf powder. In 2020, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands predicted the European Moringa products market would reach US$1.9 billion by 2027 (after it was valued at US$903 million in 2018). That’s because it easily slots into the ever-growing ‘superfood’ category, being high in protein, iron and fibre, nutrient-dense, and it has good bio-availability of nutrients to boost immunity and improve the skin. It’s even believed that Moringa could be a key food product to assist in combatting malnutrition in developing countries, due to its rich and balanced nutrient composition.
Importantly, it’s not only Moringa growers who may reap the benefits of this emerging commodity; Moringa products could potentially be used by all types of farmers. Some studies have shown that its use as a stock feed can have positive impacts on growth performance, antioxidant capacity and the nutritional value of meat. Meanwhile, both horticulture and broadacre crops could potentially benefit from the use of Moringa as a bio-stimulant to sustainably increase production yields.
So, with so many potential benefits, why aren’t we seeing more Moringa trees being planted in Australia?
Henry Brockman, principal research scientist at WA’s Department of Primary Industries & Regional Development, has been studying Moringa for decades and says a key barrier for growth of the industry is Moringa’s status as a ‘novel food’ in Australia, meaning it cannot be marketed as a food, only as a supplement.
“It’s a chicken-and-egg situation,” he explains. “The industry won’t properly invest in Moringa until it is reclassified as a food, but a level of investment is required to achieve the reclassification.”
While Asia accounts for nearly 83% of all cultivation (India alone accounts for nearly 80%, most of which comes from small-scale farms and co-ops), Dr Brockman says that consumers in the EU and US have noted challenges with the consistency and quality of these Moringa products. “The opportunity for Australian growers of Moringa, is that the product will be associated with Australia’s ‘clean, green’ reputation and transparent supply chain.”
Gary Murdoch-Brown, CEO of Advanced Nutrients, has been trialling Moringa farming in South Africa for the last ten years and agrees that Australia is in a unique position to make the most of this emerging commodity.
“Northern Australia is suitable for large scale commercial production of Moringa because of the climate and our access to advanced manufacturing and processing equipment,” he says. “If Moringa was produced here on a commercial scale, it could be sold as nutrient-dense animal feed, as a plant bio-stimulant, as biofuel or sold to cosmetic companies for its Vitamin E extract. Australia has the opportunity to guarantee a consistency of supply and quality that small-scale farmers in Asia cannot, and the demand for the product is huge.”
To chart a course for the future of the Australian Moringa industry, AgriFutures Australia recently commissioned an Australian Moringa Strategic RD&E Plan (download here) as part of its Emerging Industries Program, which focuses on new and emerging industries with high growth potential. The aim of this plan is to help the nascent industry achieve its goal of having an annual gross value of production (GVP) of more than $10m within the next five years.
The major priorities identified for investment by the Strategic RD&E Plan include:
- Undertaking an industry-wide economic assessment of viability, by product (oil, pods, leaves and salad greens) and market.
- Developing and adapting techniques for harvesting Moringa, suited to products.
- Researching and developing processing techniques to efficiently extract protein concentrate/isolate and other bioactives.
- Undertaking further research to demonstrate beneficial qualities of Moringa, including Australian-specific qualities that might offer a competitive advantage.
- Supporting the development of a Moringa Industry Association to drive implementation of the Strategic RD&E Plan and represent the industry to government, research funders, investors and markets.
Moringa’s status as a ‘novel food’ is being addressed external to the Strategic RD&E Plan.
Olivia Reynolds, AgriFutures Australia Senior Manager, who was involved in authoring the Strategic RD&E Plan (in a prior role) says the industry could succeed in Australia because of the tree’s unique properties. “It’s a tree crop that’s has multiple uses. Almost the whole plant has some utility,” she says. “Further, it has the potential to be used in rotational farming systems to regenerate land before planting high-value crops, or in the regeneration of mining sites.”
“Additionally, there are opportunities to engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enterprises, particularly as landowners and managers, providing a potential new revenue stream and the associated social benefits, including community building.”
Tony Matchett, Managing Director of Savannah Sun Foods, who was involved in the development of the Plan says the next step for the industry is the formation of an association to guide the delivery of the Plan and lobby for investment.
“There are more and more growers and investors interested in Moringa,” he says. “The industry will grow faster if we collaborate and share our learnings.”
For more information about the AgriFutures Emerging Industries Program, visit agrifutures.com.au/emerging-industries