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Moringa as coffee shade tree

Hi,

I’m interested in planting moringa as a shade tree to my coffee farm. Does anyone have experience with using moringa as shade trees?

Thanks,
Dan

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Hey Dan, moringa is a decent shade tree, based on my experience on SW La Gonave island. Have you considered neem? It grows very quickly & provides good shade. The only concern is that it’s root system is fairly elaborate & it propagates quickly (once started, it’s very easy to produce more trees). Both root systems, actually, are fairly elaborate. But they both grow quickly & are relatively low-maintenance. Drought-resistant, too.

Hi Dan,

I have not heard of moringa being used as shade for coffee, but I could see it serving that purpose well if the trees grow well in your area. Moringa is rather limited by elevation and cool temperatures. See ECHO TN#12 " Moringa grows best in the hot, semi-arid tropics. It is drought-tolerant and grows with rainfalls of 250-1500 mm (10-60 in) per year. Altitudes below 600 m (2000 ft) are best for the moringa; however, it grows up to 1200 m (4000 ft) in some tropical areas and has been recorded growing at 2000 m (6000 ft). M. stenopetala in Ethiopia is regularly found at altitudes up to 1800 m (6600 ft). At Proyecto Biomasa in Nicaragua, they found the effective altitude limit for growing moringa to be 500 m (1640 ft)."
This article refers to Moringa stenopetala being used for shade in coffee agroforestry systems in Ethiopia… Contribution of Moringa to food security in south Ethiopia
The mention that M. stenopetala is found between 900-1200 meters, but is limited by frost and cool temps.
This study might be of interest to you as well. Integration of Kelor (moringa) and coffee

Something else to consider is tree architecture. Moringa oleifera is generally not a spreading tree, rather more upright in its growth habit. You would want to observe the growth habit/shape of moringa on your site and evaluate whether it will provide the level of shading you desire.
You might consider Gliricidia sepium for shade over coffee or Erythrina ( Erythrina poeppigiana). Neem provides very dense shade and could be more challenging manage as the trees mature.
You also want to consider the effect of shade trees on soil fertility (both Gliricidia and Erythrina are legumes that fix Nitrogen) or providing other useful products. This could make moringa a good choice, if you can produce products from the moringa for use or sale.
You might also consider planting a diversity of shade trees that provide additional products. This will add complexity to their management, however, since they will not all perform the same on your site. You will avoid being ‘over-invested’ in one particular tree species, which can reduce the risk of pest or disease problems that could affect your shade trees.

I hope this is helpful,

Timothy Watkins
ECHO staff

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Those are really helpful comments! Thanks guys!

I am at 950masl on Sumatra and I want to introduce Moringa to see if the local community catches onto it to help nutritionally and economically. I might try it a little, knowing it doesn’t provide much shade and intersperse it with Gliricidia and Erythrina. I just need to do a little research and find out if I can get those trees where I am.

I’ll try and give an update once I have a little more information and results.

Thanks again!

Dan

We have experimented using moringa oleifera as shade trees for several years in the sub-tropical climate of the Sultanate of Oman for the past two years in several ways:

  1. as alley planting for vegetables and perennials i.e. planted as a hedge and kept trimmed to 1.5 metres or so;
  2. left to grow to full height in trenches to protect papaya and pomegranate crops from harsh summer sun and scorching winds.

Both experiments have been successful. With a bit of pruning to encourage side branches in example 2 the tree grows to give a perfect dappled shade. As a bonus we have noticed also a significant increase in water retained in bare soil under and just beyond the canopy.

In example 1 you need to leve side shoots at ground level otherwise if your alleys are wide- spaced sunlight will hit the ground where vegetables are growing. I would modify the arrangement in future with wider spaces between the moringa to let them grow taller and aim to grow the vegetables in line with the canopy to exploit the apparent water retention.

As Tim has pointed out, an advantage of moringa is as a commercial crop in its own right with a number of applications. Other benefits from an agricultural viewpoint are its use as a green manure (we chop and drop), foliar leaf feed and mulch (leaves and bark).

As a nitrogent fixer, gliricidia may be a good alternative and we are currently growing that to plant this season. I agree that Neem, albeit a superb tree in every way, would be challenging to control as it grows and casts a very dense shade. We use them to shade buildings and as wind/sun protection for the orchard.

By way of postscript on moringa, they can be prone to insect attack especially if densely planted so you have to be vigilant and nip any infestation in the bud promptly. Hope this is of assistance.

Thank you all for the excellent feedback! In case others may be following this thread and wish to know more about Moringa, this is the ECHOcommunity collection of resources devoted to that topic. We look forward to more responses that will be helpful to Dan and others!

If you are growing a tree you want to use for shade and you want it to spread laterally there are a few tricks you can use to get it to spread farther laterally. I am a professional tree pruner with many years of experiencing pruning trees in orchards. Central leader systems are helpful because the tree does not put excessive growth into the center of the tree with a central leader system. You use a 50% rule to make decisions on eliminating branches. If the branch is 50% as large as the trunk then you consider removing it. Generally you are taking one large branch out of the upper portion of the tree and one out of the bottom per time you prune and so you are first targeting the most “offensive” branches first and eliminating them but not too many of them at once so the tree does not start wasting energy and sending up “water sprouts”. Excessively upright branches at the top in particular should be eliminated when they are smaller if possible but not too many at once. Generally anything over 45 degrees will start to be allocated an excessive amount of energy and grow in diameter and height very fast and compete with the central leader. Since these branches grow more upright they not only take up too much energy and restrict sideways growth but also shade branches that come off of them which further restricts lateral movement. Also if branches start to bend below the horizontal then you can tip them 3 or 4 inches below the horizontal and they will send out new branches that will spread laterally. This sounds like a lot of work but most pruning could be done in a few seconds once you get the hang of it and you could use those prunings for an income or for fodder or food. Once you learn the art of pruning and start to find out how to control trees and manipulate them into the desired shape you can start to experiment with fruit and vine crops in your coffee plantation. Passion fruit, vanilla, climbing yam are vines that are income producers and many types of fruit trees can be trained to spread laterally if you prune as described above. You do not need a thick canopy to produce fruit well. Many fruits (or nuts like macadamia) have better coloring if you prune to a thin canopy and when you are growing fruit you can justify spending more time pruning to get the optimal shade you want (without getting an excessive amount of “water sprouts” which take an excessive amount of time to eliminate).

Just to clarify I was talking about coloring on fruits like mangoes. Macadamia nuts and many fruits do not need coloring but will benefit from a thinner canopy because light is being absorbed in the lower portion of the canopy and more air will pass through drying the leaves more quickly which will encourage larger sizes, better quality, and less disease.