For 53-year-old Lakshmanan, a former banana farmer near Modakurichi in western Tamil Nadu, switching over to Moringa has opened up a world of opportunities.
Forced to explore options by regular periods of low rainfall, which hurt yield at his six-acre farm, he found the answer when he participated in a training programme in Madurai on Moringa cultivation and value addition.
Three years after he planted the first Moringa tree, Mr. Lakshmanan now grows the plant on five acres. And it is completely organic.
“I cultivate Moringa for leaves,” he says. “It can grow with relatively less water and hence is an advantage.”
After initially selling Moringa leaves to domestic buyers in small quantities and at low cost, he decided to add machinery for value addition. He invested ₹1.5 lakh and makes Moringa leaf powder, tea, and capsules.
And having exported 550 kg of Moringa powder to Africa and Malaysia last year, he is looking at shipping almost a tonne this year, if all goes well.
The economics too appear favourable for Moringa. While banana annually fetched him ₹1.7 lakh an acre, Mr. Lakshmanan estimates he can make about ₹4 lakh a year for every acre under Moringa.
So much so, he has prepared a project to invest another ₹25 lakh. He also plans to encourage his friends to opt for Moringa.
The Tamil Nadu Organic Certification Department says that Moringa is one of the major crops it has certified so far. The leaf and the seedpod, commonly known as drumstick, find widespread culinary use.
T. Arumugam, Head of the Department of Vegetable Crops at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, says Moringa Oleifera is a hardy plant common in the State. It has many commercial uses, including in water purification, healthcare, and cosmetics. The market for Moringa has grown in the last 10-15 years and global demand too has risen over the last 5-7 years. “A sizeable quantity is exported,” says Mr. Arumugam.