Processing African Moringa
Long before you found Kuli Kuli moringa products at your local supermarket, moringa powder was being produced and consumed in West Africa. But how do they get the leaves into powder form in Benin? For the most part, the process is cringe worthy; hygienic standards, just an after thought. Nothing like the extremely vetted production process and strict standards that Kuli Kuli’s moringa producers must adhere to. Luckily, I got a sneak peak into the producer of the highest quality moringa powder in Benin.
The enterprise, Plantes Aromatiques des Collines (PAC) is located in my small Peace Corps host country, Benin. Nearly 100 widowed women are employed to produce a moringa powder that is sold in supermarkets and pharmacies around the country. The founder, Pierrette Djemain, has built the company with a mission of women empowerment all while combatting one of the biggest killers in West Africa, malnourishment. The following are the current steps taken to produce the moringa powder. Keep in mind, although surpassing all hygienic standards for Benin, it has not yet met standards for the United States (working on it!).
The Ten Step Moringa Processing Procedure
1. Trim the moringa tree. Ideally, the tree is cut at 1.5 meters heigh but due to the presence of hungry goats, the height can range to up to 2 meters.
2. Remove smaller branches from the trunk.
3. De-stem the leaves.
4. Transport the leaves in a sealed cotton fabric bag to the processing center. The evening prior, the floors, tables, buckets, drying racks and all other necessary equipment are washed with bleach, soap and water.
5. Adhere strictly to these processing center hygiene regulations:
-Wear clean, white jacket and hair net
-Put on face mask and gloves
-Talking and shoes are not permitted
-Wash hands with soap, water and disinfectant
6. Fill three large basins with purified water- the first one with with salt water and the two following with pure water. Leaves are scrubbed for approximately two minutes in each basin.
7. Strain the leaves, then spread evenly one layer thick across the previously sterilized drying racks.
8. After three or four days (weather dependent), remove the leaves from the drying racks and place them a solar dryer for 10 minutes in order to reduce leaf moisture beyond what the racks are capable of.
9. Finally, crush the leaves into a powder using a wooden mortar and pestle.
10. The processed powder is sealed in a large plastic container for later distribution into smaller containers that will be sold all over Benin.
Proud Beninese Moringa Producers
The enterprise, PAC, started four years ago with just $1 USD and 1 single moringa tree. At the beginning, workers dried out the leaves on a sheet in the sun. This is common in Benin, but as you can imagine is a huge red flag for both hygiene and nutrient levels of the leaf. There is still a long ways to go before PAC can get to a standard where it can export but nonetheless, there is much to be proud of for how far these Beninese women have come!