Bhagya KDM & Sarpan 2: Next-Gen Moringa Varieties

I have been tracking Moringa for over six years now and published several pieces on the same. Being a weekend farmer my interest in Moringa is piqued whenever I come across new things about it.

In fact, the world too seems very much interested in Moringa considering there are 16.40lakh results Google yields when one searches “research papers on Moringa”. 

Its generic name is derived from the Tamil word ‘murungai’ meaning ‘twisted pod’, and ‘oleifera’ is Latin, meaning ‘oil-bearing’, due to the high oil content of the seeds, this tree has been around for ages. But ever since the Western world claimed it as a superfood, thanks to its nutritional qualities, its acreage in the country’s arid and semi-arid zones have been rising as farmers recognise it as a crop that never fails despite climate change.

The media—social and mainstream— and the scientific community at large have become enamoured with Moringa Oleifera’s health-giving properties. However, only a few of its many reputed health benefits have been studied scientifically. To date, studies show that Moringa may lead to modest reductions in blood sugar and cholesterol. It may also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and protect against arsenic toxicity.  Still the craze for the food plant with multiple medicinal properties continues to grow.

Bhagya KDM Moringa Variety

Moringa provides a rich and rare combination of nutrients, amino acids, antioxidants, anti-ageing and anti-inflammatory properties used for nutrition and healing. Moringa leaves have seven times the Vitamin C of oranges, four times the calcium of milk, four times the vitamin A of carrots, three times the potassium of bananas, and double the protein of yoghurt. With over 92 nutrients and 46 natural antioxidants, as well as anti-inflammatory compounds it has been dubbed the ‘miracle tree’. Additionally, the moringa oil, harvested from the seeds are much sought after in the formulation of skin care products. 

A study titled “Bioactive Components in Moringa Oleifera Leaves Protect against Chronic Disease” published by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes concludes thus:  Protective effects of MO leaves against chronic diseases: cardiovascular disease, by lowering plasma lipids including triglycerides (TG) decreasing blood pressure and reducing oxidative stress; diabetes, by lowering plasma glucose], reducing insulin resistance and increasing? cell function; NAFLD, by reducing hepatic lipids, reducing liver enzymes and decreasing hepatic inflammation and cancer, by reducing DNA damage, viability of cancer cells and increasing apoptosis.

A 2016 study by Malaysian researchers on animals found that aqueous fraction of Moringa contains Vicenin-2 active compound which may accelerate wound healing in hyperglycemic condition.  A diabetic foot ulcer is a serious complication of diabetes, which affects a significant percentage (15%) of diabetics and up to 15%–24% of those affected may require amputation.

In recent years those engaged in subsistence farming have taken to farming of Moringa oleifera (drumstick tree) for it needs minimum care, and if grown in large areas can fetch a good price from markets close to cities and also urban centres.

Farmers in drought-prone regions of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, West Bengal and Odisha are increasingly growing it in large acres. Moringa is presently traded in several vegetable markets across Maharashtra, in Pune, Vashi, Solapur, and Aurangabad. This season, the rate for the drumsticks is between Rs 3,500-Rs 4,000 per quintal.

If you’re a wannabe Moringa grower you either settle for Periyakulam (PKM)2 or ODC3  overlooking Periyakulam (PKM) 1 which has longish pods (3to 4ft) and thus unacceptable to the market. While the former is an annual variety the latter is a perennial one.

Most are unaware that there are other much lesser-known Moringa varieties which are super yielders. Both have one thing in common, Karnataka.  

Let us begin with Bhagya KDM, developed by Dr B M Madalgeri and Dr Ravindra Mulge while at KRC College of Horticulture, Arabhavi in Belagavi Distt.  I reached out to Dr Madalgeri, now retired and in Australia, to know more. Says he, “When it was released its demand for cultivation was high as is evident from the number of seeds sold in the State from the university-held shows. Probably, the lack of extension activities in showcasing the variety outside the State and insufficient seed production and supply chain may be the cause for not being known beyond Karnataka.”

Suited for high-density planting which can be maintained at a height of 2 to 4 meters by pruning and training, Bhagya KDM is an institute-developed variety released at the State level and not a farmers variety. Its parental material was PKM 3 selection carried out since from 1998 and released during 2011.

Sarpan SD2 Moringa Variety

It flowers after 100 to 110 days, following planting. The fruit length is advantageous as its  60 cm medium length plus or minus 15 cm. One can start harvesting the fruits after 160 to 180 days post-planting. It gives 350 to 400 fruits per plant in the first year and 800 to 1000 fruits in the second year. Informs Dr Mulge: “It can be maintained for 15 years. Its yield reduces due to infection of borer or poor management necessitating replanting after 8 to 10 years.”

Dr Mulge calls it a ‘breeders’ baby’ and stresses that it needs to popularize which is not happening. The seeds of Bhagya KDM is presently being produced by the Arabhavi-based  Kittur Rani Chennamma College Of Horticulture. But lacks adequate supply.  “Though popular among Karnataka farmers, the supply of seeds in quantity and quality is an issue for further expansion,” adds Dr Mulge.

The another variety is thanks to an individual’s effort. In this case a prolific plant breeder and the “Chilliman of India” Dr Nijagunadev Gaddagimath of  Dharwad’s  Sarpan Agri Horticultural Research Center and Sarpan Hybrid Seeds.

Called Sarpan SD-2, it’s a semi-tall perennial variety. With fruit size ranging between 15-18 inches, it’s fleshy, pulpier and is soft-seeded. A very high-yielding hybrid its bearing ability is very high. A fully-grown matured tree yields between 300-500 fruits per plant.  The variety needs shallow pruning every alternate year to the extent of 10-20% canopy.  It has two flushes of fruits, namely between December- March with heavy fruiting and followed by June-July with a shy crop.

Suggests Dr Gaddagimath, “We advise pruning above 5′ -6′ every alternate year in order to manage the canopy spread and for easy harvesting of fruits.”

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