True Moringa, a company that is pioneering the beauty and nutrition field of moringa oil, was founded by Kwami and Emily, two students from MIT and Harvard respectively. Kwami is originally from Ghana – he immigrated here when he was eight years old. He was studying aerospace engineering, while Emily was in the midst of her third year of studying development economics. In 2011 they traveled to northern Ghana together with MIT’s D-Lab, which works on affordable technology for developing countries.
“The farmers that we were working with in these rural areas told us about this incredible tree called the moringa tree,” Emily says. “It makes amazing cosmetic oil, the leaves are really nutritious – they can be used as a superfood powder – and it has great environmental implications. It doesn’t require a lot of water. It flowers and bears fruit within eight months, which is pretty crazy for a tree. You can intercrop it with other subsistence crops so that they grow better, so it doesn’t take up a lot of space and benefit very small scale farmers.”
Emily and Kwami got excited about the possibilities, so they started designing an extraction process so they could process the oil locally in Ghana. Now Kwami runs their field operations in Ghana, where all the motorized extraction machines are also designed and fabricated.
The farmers receive training, inputs, financing, and support to start their own farms. Then True Moringa buys seeds at a fair price directly from farmers, and processes them in Accra before sending the oil to Boston, where it is repackaged with other natural ingredients into the product I got to try.
“We decided the cosmetics market would be our first venture, given the feedback from our friends and first customers on how well the oil worked for them,” Emily says, “for all different hair and skin types.”
Moringa oil is similar to argan oil in the feel and look of it. Rich in unique moisturizing agents and high in antioxidants, the oil minimizes scars, stretch marks and signs of aging while replenishing essential fatty acids to the skin and preventing long-term damage. Unlike argan oil, it’s also really rich in natural plant hormones that help to stimulate cell growth. “So it has another additional layer of anti-aging benefits on top of what argan and jojoba can do,” Emily says.
I got a sample to try* with added lavender essential oil, and I ended up using it as a lightweight moisturizer on my face at night. I loved it.
Moringa also goes above and beyond argan oil in terms of benefits to the people working with it in the community. It doubles as a food source for farmers, first of all. “Whereas argan is usually wild harvested, and doesn’t really have additional benefits to the soil, moringa actually helps to rejuvenate the soil and helps small farmers grow their subsistence crops like yams or peanuts even better. Small farmers are really risk averse, they usually only tend an acre or less of land, so to ask them to risk everything on one cash crop is to ask a lot. But if you can just intercrop moringa with what they’re already growing, it’s no risk to them. On top of that, the waste product from oil processing can be used at poultry feed and natural fertilizer. It’s like this crazy wonder tree.”
Emily, who in my interview came off as super sweet and earnest, isn’t out to kill argan oil. “I could see moringa and argan coexisting for sure,” she says. “I could see them being used together in lotions or creams. But I think everyone will know about moringa oil soon enough.” They have plans to come out with a whole extended facial and body care line.
Things are going well. About 250,000 trees have been planted, 1,000 farmers have had their income quadrupled, and they have come out with a nutritional product line that they sell in Ghana called Minga. “It’s a kind of infuser, a tea bag/serving sized packet that you can mix into smoothies or different foods for extra nutrients,” she says. The powder has more vitamin A than carrots, more protein than eggs, more calcium than milk and more iron than spinach. “Hopefully we can bring that to the US and the rest of the world soon. We launched in Ghana first because we’re passionate about using locally-sourced nutrition to fight the problem of malnutrition both where it’s obvious in rural areas, but also among the burgeoning middle class. There aren’t really a lot of nutritious snack options. Right now a lot of nutrition programs ship in processed foods. We want to encourage everyone to live a healthy lifestyle regardless of income, and do it in a way that supports local industry.”
It’s refreshing that True Moringa has a Ghanian working in Ghana, while Emily is here in the states running the marketing side. “We try to build really great relationships with the communities that we work with, and understand their needs rather than prescribing something that works for them,” she says. “So we’ll go into each new village and say, ‘Here’s this opportunity,’ not forcing on anyone, but eventually the farmers see the benefits and they come to us and we can work together.”
A beauty product that is environmentally friendly, is super beneficial to farmers and other people in Ghana, and works? When I run out of my argan oil, I know who I’m turning to for a replacement.
*I got the sample for free