Moringa; delivering nutrition and economic value to the people of Malawi

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: Sch of Medicine, Medical Sci & Nutrition

Abstract

Lack of adequate nutrition in Malawi is a critical concern and without intervention, the provision of adequate food is an unachievable outcome. Malawi also faces significant challenges in establishing and operating a food and nutrition security programme. Our innovative solution is to establish production of a high-protein, micronutrient rich crop (Moringa oleifera), which will be locally grown by smallholder farmers, and processed on-site to supply Malawi's proposed scaled-up nutrition programmes. This project will not only contribute towards nutritional security for the poorest and most vulnerable in Malawi, but will deliver recognised additional economic benefits through two commercialisation opportunities; provision of functional plant-based protein isolates as an increasingly desirable food ingredient for local and export markets and scientifically-evaluated fair-trade products to enter the growing international market for nutraceuticals. We have partnered with Africa Growing plc who have provided significant investment in proof-of-concept Moringa plantations in Malawi since 2011. Strong networks and collaboration agreements are in place with the National Farmers' Association (100,000 members), which will help sustain local economies. Contract growing by smallholder farmers ensures the benefits cascade down to the rural population, providing a product grown in Malawi, processed in Malawi for the people of Malawi.

Moringa is widely regarded as a 'miracle tree' it has been described by many as 'a nutritional and medicinal cornucopia' and all parts of the plant are edible. Our preliminary data has shown that Moringa leaves, which can be repeatedly and sustainably and cropped are high in protein (28%) and fibre (14%). The commercial source analysed was found to be extremely rich in beneficial bioactive constituents considered to contribute towards prevention of life-style-related diseases (type-2-diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer), as well as important micronutrients. Moringa performs well in less-fertile soils and being drought resistant and perennial is likely to be more resistant to climatic change. Additionally, sequestration of CO2 will contribute to climate change mitigation. This proposal will evaluate the nutritional and economic value of Moringa grown in Malawi. We will assess the nutritional composition, grown across several sites in terms of its potential to contribute towards meeting the nutritional requirements of vulnerable groups. With 47% of children stunted, infant mortality at 11.2% (live births under five) and maternal mortality (675 per 100,000 births) one of the highest in the world, young children and expectant mothers are an important target group. HIV/AIDS sufferers also benefit from improved nutrition, as efficacy of current anti-retro viral drugs require a nutritious and balanced diet. We will compare Moringa to the supplemental formula adopted by the World Food Programme, which is currently imported from multinational chemical companies. This will be evaluated in human dietary intervention, providing evidence beyond that of product labelling. The project will identify additional economic opportunities for Malawi by exploring the development of novel GM-free, protein-rich functional food products and fair-trade scientifically evaluated nutraceuticals, both of which are highly desirable in growing international food and health markets. This will lead to greater empowerment of the country, enabling it to influence its own nutritional and economic future. There is also potential to expand the project into other LMICs where severe malnutrition is a concern. Additionally, it will strengthen the UK research base, allowing researchers working in nutrition and food formulation to benefit from working in a socioeconomic setting, identifying barriers to effective translation and establishing connections with academics, government and non-government organisations in Malawi.

Technical Summary

Provision of adequate nutrition in Malawi is critical, but significant challenges exist in establishing and operating a food and nutrition security programme. This project aims to establish production of a high-protein, micronutrient rich crop (Moringa oleifera), which will be locally grown by smallholder farmers, and processed on-site to supply Malawi's proposed scaled-up nutrition programmes. As well as contributing towards nutritional security for the poorest and most vulnerable, it will deliver recognised additional economic benefits through two commercialisation opportunities; provision of functional plant-based protein isolates as an increasingly desirable food ingredient for local and export markets and scientifically-evaluated fair-trade products to enter the growing international market for nutraceuticals.

The nutritional composition (macro-, micro-, anti- and non-nutrient content) of Moringa grown across several sites will be evaluated and compared to the supplemental formula adopted by the World Food Programme in an adequately powered human dietary intervention, providing evidence on the bioavailability of micronutrients beyond that of product labelling. Technology developed to produce functional protein-rich formulations from legumes will be adapted for the sustainably cropped Moringa leaves, providing a palatable, protein-rich isolate with functional properties, which being fair-trade and GM-free will be a desirable food ingredient and commercial opportunity for companies with or adopting a sustainability plan. Additionally, the bioactive constituents (several hundred, some of which have been shown to be anti-inflammatory, geno-protective, redox active) will be characterised by targeted LC-MS, providing a scientifically evaluated fair-trade nutraceutical to enter the increasing international health market for these products. Using an ex ante cost-benefit appraisal the social and economic aspect will be evaluated.

Planned Impact

The beneficiaries from this project will be:

Vulnerable individuals in Malawi: most importantly young children, expectant mothers and HIV/Aids sufferers, but also the wider community. The major aim of this project is to address the hunger and malnutrition in Malawi. Moringa will deliver both nutritional and economic benefits, which will have the greatest impact in this group.

Smallholding Farmers, local co-operatives and food processors: Moringa has potential to enter the global market as both functional food ingredients and a fair-trade nutraceutical. This could provide new opportunities and significant economic benefits for growers, producers and upstream processors and distributors. It could also stimulate new industry.

Investors: There will be opportunities for small-scale investors to facilitate re-investment in nutritional programs bringing economic gain and benefits to the wider community.

Women in Malawi: Through an established connection with the County Director at Environment Africa and Executive Director of Women in Business in Malawi we hope to stimulate gender empowerment, specifically to encourage women growers and producers.

Project Partner: Providing scientific evidence for the benefits of growing and utilisation of Moringa as a crop and export product in and for Malawi will benefit the project partner in terms of growing their investment and reinvestment.

General public: Raising public awareness regarding the importance of increasing plant protein in the diet will benefit them in terms of improved health and contribution towards a more sustainable and resilient food supply chain.

Other LMICs: Success adoption of Moringa by smallholder farmers will provide a model for other LMICs, through the versatility of Moringa or with other crops.

Food/Nutraceutical Supply Companies: Provision of novel functional food ingredients and a fair-trade well characterised nutraceuticals could benefit international supply companies, increasing international sales with benefits back to Malawi.

Academic partners (as detailed separately): This includes the research team, junior scientific staff (to be appointed), other UK/EU-based research teams, researchers in Malawi, other international researchers in LMICs.

Longer term and Wider Benefits: Increasing consumption of sustainable plant-based food will mitigate against the anticipated protein-supply concerns, improve health by reducing meat consumption, increase biodiversity and providing a more resilient food supply chain. Utilization of wild and indigenous crops, which grow in less fertile soils and are resistant to drought, require less agricultural and energy inputs and are also likely to be more resistant to climate change. In the case of Moringa sequestration of CO2 will contribute to climate change mitigation.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We demonstrated that samples produced and prepared at three distinct geographical locations within Malawi; Lilongwe, Salima and Chikwawa were mostly comparable with regard to nutritional quality, being high in protein, fibre and a good range of healthy fatty acids, micronutrient vitamins and minerals. We compared the ready-to-eat therapeutic food 'Super-Cereal Plus' with our formulated product, where soya and the micronutrient premix were replaced by moringa. The moringa product contained higher amounts of magnesium, calcium, manganese, sodium, iron, but lower amounts of phosphorous, potassium and zinc. The moringa product was also lower in the anti-nutrient; phytic acid, which can interfere with mineral uptake. In an acute human study to demonstrate that moringa could replace all of the protein and oil, as well as some of the micronutrients, we showed no differences in these micronutrients and several important amino acids between the test meals. It should be noted, however, that this was an acute setting and the volunteers were not nutritionally compromised and emphasises the importance of testing this in an appropriate cohort.

Related to this project, further GCRF-IPPF also allowed us to explore the impact of moringa on the human gut microbiota, as well as the metabolism profile. We found that across four well characterised faecal microbiomes, moringa significantly modulated several bacterial species There was a significant increase in several short chain fatty acids and in anti-inflammatory phenolic metabolites. These interesting impacts on the microbiome and its functional output strengthen the hypothesis that NUS are likely to support healthy development of the gut microbiota in infants.
Exploitation Route We believe that this short GCRF project has delivered a dynamic model of how agriculture could potentially provide solutions to nutritional insecurity, supporting agrobiodiversity, as well as opportunities for commercialisation. We have secured a strong network within Sub-Saharan Africa and feel confident that we can move forward to explore the potential of NUS to deliver crop diversity, as well demonstrating that moringa could contribute to the development of food products to supply scaled-up nutrition programmes. We also have preliminary data to show that moringa beneficially modulates the gut microbiome. This along with comprehensive nutritional data for wider NUS would allow us to focus on delivering a dietary intervention aimed at improving infant nutrition.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

 
Description We have provided a higher value novel palatable moringa formulation and demonstrated that it maintained the bioavailability of its the nutrients and other beneficial components. From this, a patent has been filed and initial private R&D investment secured. Our partners (Africa Growing plc) are developing a marketing strategy and looking at opportunities to scale-up production. Although at an early development stage, we also have several other commercial products in the development pipeline.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description GCRF IPPF
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Aberdeen 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 06/2018
 
Description GCRF IPPF
Amount £9,648 (GBP)
Organisation University of Aberdeen 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 06/2018
 
Title Phytate Analysis 
Description New method developed to measure phytate, myoinositol and all intermediates. 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Method will facilitate the measurement of these plant metabolites, which have important nutritional attributes in the samples collected for this study, as well as future research programmes. 
 
Title Moringa Nutritional Database 
Description Database comprising nutritional data (macronutrients, micronutrients, anti-nutrients and non-nutrient bioactives) for Moringa samples collected at different sites in Malawi 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Currently for research project only. 
 
Description Gut Microbiology 
Organisation University of Aberdeen
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Award of GCRF IPPF has facilitated collaboration with gut microbiologists to understand the impact of Moringa on the microbiota, as well as microbial transformation of Moringa constituents.
Collaborator Contribution Partners will perform microbial sequencing and provide microbial isolates to undertake this work.
Impact No outputs/outcomes to report yet. Multidisciplinary: microbiology, microbial ecology, chemistry, food science
Start Year 2018