By Henrylito D. Tacio
The once lowly “malunggay” stages a comeback and is now being touted as the “next big thing” in Philippine agriculture, according to the Department of Agriculture.
“Malunggay can save lives, increase incomes, generate millions of jobs, utilize vast tracts of idle agricultural lands, make the Philippines globally competitive, impact local and international market, and help attain socio-economic equity,” explained Alice Ilaga, director of the DA’s Biotechnology Program, which aggressively aims to develop the agribusiness potentials of various crops as part of the government’s poverty-alleviation program.
As such, the agriculture department is now encouraging the massive cultivation of the so-called “miracle vegetable.” In fact, it has already producing planting materials such as malunggay seed and stem cuttings, as part of its promotions campaign.
Known scientifically as “Moringa oleifera,” malunggay is one of the of the world’s most useful, yet often overlooked, plants. The “natural nutrition for the tropics” is how the Florida-based Education Concerns for Hunger Organization described malunggay. For centuries, people in India, Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand have been eating malunggay leaves as a part of their food.
After all, malunggay leaves are excellent sources of vitamins A, B, C, D, E, amino acids, cystiene and minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, iron and magnesium. Nutritionists claims that gram for gram, malunggay has seven times the vitamin C found in oranges, four times the vitamin A found in carrots, four times the calcium and two times the protein found in milk and three times the potassium found in bananas.
“What a cheap way of solving malnutrition in the country,” said a statement released by the government. “Sometimes, people think that solutions to their problems are expensive and hard to find. But more often than not, real solutions to basic problems are abundant, cheap and even free.”
In the Philippines, malunggay is a well known recipe for many delicious and nutritious viands. Its leaves are for soups with either chicken, fish, sautéed with beef, mongo and sardines; blanched as salads; tasty for ‘bola-bola,’ ‘torta’ and others. Its fruit pods and pulp are cooked as ‘dinengdeng’ or ‘lao-uy’ and can also be sauteed.
Not many people know that the late President Ferdinand Marcos was a malunggay addict, consuming soup littered with green leaves in every meal in addition to the legendary ‘saluyot’ and ‘labong’ (bamboo shoots) as his main fare.
The seeds of malunggay contain 40 percent oil, which is considered excellent massage oil because it has good anti-oxidant properties and shelf life ranging from four to five years. As the oil is anti-oxidant, it is also good for cooking. In fact, it can be an alternative for olive oil, as it is odorless and has a mild nutty flavor.
As part of its program to promote biotechnology, the agriculture department is now strategically positioning itself for the commercial planting of seeds for malunggay oil production.
According to Ilaga, a multinational food company has expressed keen interest in putting up a processing plant in the Philippines for the purpose. “This will boost commercial planting of malunggay in the future,” she pointed out.
“Malunggay has a lot of potential,” Ilaga added. “The Philippines can penetrate the international market in producing malunggay oil from its seeds using advance technology to extract oil from enzymes.”
One local company that is leading in malunggay production is SECURA International. After entering into malunggay production for more than a year, it expects a bright future for the malunggay industry. Being in the early stages of developing the malunggay market, SECURA believes that the Philippines is on the right track but still has a long way to go.
SECURA president Danny Manayaga admits that for the country to really take advantage of the market, it should first ensure that there is enough supply to support it. “The market is developing, but up to now, we still don’t know the extent of this market because we have not yet defined our capacity to produce malunggay,” he disclosed.
“We are involved with contract growers from different towns all over the country such as Valencia in Negros Oriental, Masinloc and Botolan in Zambales, Alaminos and Infanta in Pangasinan, and Bamban in Tarlac, which accounts for 150 hectares of our malunggay supply for our current market but it is not enough to sustain the demands for other products such as moringa oil,” Manayaga said.
SECURA needs at least 20,000 hectares to be able to support the available market for malunggay products. Currently, it is involved in processing dehydrated malunggay leaves to produce tea and as an additive to other medicinal plants to produce herbal tea. “This is the only active market that is running for malunggay now,” Manayaga said.
Other malunggay byproducts include body lotions, hair creams, massage creams, and water purifiers.
In Cebu, a local daily reported that a Japanese businessman has discovered the medicinal value of the malunggay and has developed a tea that he claims can cure many human diseases. The tea is the product of 30 years of research, which began after he read a passage in the Bible about a “tree that cures all diseases.”
Japanese businessman Mitsuo Shoji said that he searched for the said biblical tree and did not expect it to be the malunggay as he had assumed that it would be hard to find. After discovering it, he developed a tea “to help many people” suffering from different ailments.
Mounting scientific evidence shows what has been known for thousands of years by people in the tropical parts of the world: Malunggay is nature’s medicine cabinet. “All parts of malunggay are natural medicines,” Ilaga said.
The leaves are good for curing headache, bleeding from a shallow cut, and can be used as anti-inflammatory, or cure for gastric ulcers and diarrhea. The seeds, on the other hand, can treat arthritis, rheumatism, gout, cramp, sexually transmitted diseases, boils, and urinary problems. It is also used as relaxant for epilepsy. The roots, bark and gum of malunggay likewise have potential medicinal value.
Scientifically speaking, malunggay sounds like magic. It helps in strengthening the immune system, control blood pressure, restores skin condition, relieves headache and migraine, reduces inflammation and arthritis pains, manage the sugar level thereby preventing diabetes, restrict growth of tumors and heal ulcers.
More importantly, malunggay has the ability to purify water. “The crushed moringa seeds can clear very turbid water,” said Dr. John Sutherland, of Leicester University’s Department of Environmental Technology. He added that powdered malunggay seeds are appropriate for water purification in rural areas of tropical countries like the Philippines.
Planting malunggay trees would also help stabilize soil and contribute to fight against deforestation. The malunggay tree is highly resistant to drought and needs little care. It is fast-growing and lives for average of 50 years. Each tree can produce approximately 10,000 seeds a year. It also makes an excellent fuel and fertilizer.
A tropical species, malunggay can tolerate temperatures up to 48 degrees Centigrade, but 15 degrees to 35 degrees Centigrade is considered best. It grows in areas with annual rainfall of 760 to 2250 millimeters.
In the Philippines, malunggay is grown in settled areas as a backyard vegetable along fences. Believed to be a native of eastern India, it was introduced into the country during the prehistoric times. — ###