Entrepreneurs bet on Kalamungay

Health and alternative energy benefits could pay homesteaders.

By Léo Azambuja

If the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ever decide to embrace a healthier lifestyle, they’ll be screaming Kalamungay instead of Cowabunga.

Kalamungay has been around for a long time in Hawaii. This small-leafed, bushy tree, also known as moringa, is one of the best-kept secrets in the agricultural world. The tree has a wide range of uses; food, fertilizer, fuel, medicine, and even cosmetics. Banking on that, two investors on Molokai are trying to put together a farmers’ cooperative to bring in grants, and boost the local agriculture, especially on homestead lands.

Just about a year ago, Jerry Manning introduced kalamungay to Jim Schelinski, who fed his curiosity by researching online the plant’s possible uses. Schelinski was astonished. He realized kalamungay was a gold mine waiting to be explored. With that in mind, Manning and Schelinski founded J. J. Moringa LLC, a company intended to promote kalamungay agriculture on Molokai.

The plant is easy to grow and requires little water, according to Manning. This would be one of the major lures for growing kalamungay on an island that is constantly battling drought.

Growing in adverse conditions is hardly the main merit of kalamungay. The plant has 18 out of 20 amino acids that we need to survive. It also helps fight cancer. It purifies water. Used as a fertilizer, kalamungay is known to increase crop yield by 30 percent. Fish food and livestock feed are also options.

According to the Trees for Life Web site, kalamungay has more protein and calcium than milk, more potassium than bananas, more vitamin A than carrots and more vitamin C than oranges. All that packed in only one vegetable.

“It’s a cash crop,” Manning said. “There is no way to loose.”

According to Manning, Kalamungay does not pose a threat to the environment. Despite thriving in unfavorable conditions, and spreading a lot of seeds, it does not propagate easily outside of a controlled environment, Manning said.

The small crowd that attended the company’s presentation at Lanikeha last month was eager to know more about the plant. At least half of the 15 attendees were homestead farmers.

“You’ve got to take a chance,” Manning said. “This is a good product; you can live off of it.”

But some were a bit skeptical. “If this is so good, why don’t you pay us guys to do it?” one of the homesteaders asked.

Manning said that if the farmers start a cooperative, it will be much easier to receive government grants. But for that to happen, the cooperative must be made up of at least 70 percent native Hawaiians.

“We already have some money saved to start a cooperative,” Manning said. The money might help to buy some equipment or to pay for irrigation. However, it is still not enough to fund all of the homesteaders that may want to grow kalamungay on their lands, according to him.

“It would be nice if we had enough money to plant 40 acres for everybody, but we don’t,” Manning said. “You guys form a coop, then there’s grant money.”

Manning’s business partner, Schelinski, said that if for some reason farmers get stuck with kalamungay produce, they can turn it into compost.

“Hikiola said they will buy the fertilizer,” Schelinski said. “Whatever they cannot sell locally, they will ship off island.”

Schelinski and Manning are already testing Kalamungay on a one-acre land to find out how many plants can be grown, how fast, and how many seeds can be produced.

“We do have some funds from UH,” Manning said. “Soon we’ll start another acre at a higher altitude.”

Growing kalamungay on Molokai sounds like an excellent business venture, and some homesteaders showed interest, but still had some reservations. They were concerned about losing market to foreign growers. One of the homesteaders said the market for Polynesian `awa was overtaken by foreign growers. “Brazil went all out planting it, and now Hawaii cannot compete with them,” he said.

J.J. Moringa is willing to provide seeds to farmers who wish to plant kalamungay. The only thing that the company requires, according to Manning, is that growers give first choice to the company to purchase their produce.

For more information on kalamungay, please see www.treesforlife.org.


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