Chia Seeds Farming in Kenya: New Herb Rich In Oil Has Great Income Potential

The brown cover of wheat on several farms along the busy Njoro-Elburgon Road stretch yonder, giving one an impression of how dominant the crop is in the region.
However, some 2km from Njoro town in Kenana village, the dominance of wheat is challenged by luxuriant purple-flowered plants.
The farm, a head-turner, belongs to Stephen Gatimu and he grows chia (Salvia hispanica), whose seeds have become popular due to their immense benefits.
We find Gatimu strolling on the farm, which is one of the several on which he grows chia.
He farms on a total of 10 acres on different farms around Nakuru, with each hosting the crops at various stages of growth.
He carefully cuts the apex of an already dry plant, rubs it in his hands and winnows the brown chaff. He puts the tiny black seeds in his mouth.
chia seeds farming in kenya
“Chia is one of the most nutritious foods you will ever come across. It is rich in proteins, Omega 3 fats and a dozen of other nutrients that include calcium, manganese, and phosphorus,” says Gatimu, who has leased the farm at Sh5,000 per acre.
During our visit, he had just completed planting the crop on one of the farms around Kenana. Two days earlier, he had harvested 300kg of Chia from two acres in Rongai, Nakuru, from which he hopes to pocket at least Sh400,000 as the current market price is Sh500 for a 250g pack.
Gatimu, who sells herbal medicine and grows herbs like rosemary, ginger and lemon grass in Molo, ventured into chia growing in 2014 after attending an exhibition in Zanzibar.
“I met a farmer from Rwanda who was exhibiting chia and engaged him. I then researched more and realised how beneficial the crop is.”
Chia seeds farming in Kenya is easy
He purchased 2kg of chia seeds at the exhibition and returned home to sell a portion to one of his patients who had pain in the legs and was confined to a wheelchair.
After two months of consistent use, the patient’s mobility improved. Seeing what the little known chia seeds had done, he planted a kilo on an eighth acre and harvested 30kg.
He later replanted the seeds on quarter-acre, harvesting 70kg and sold 10kg to his clients making at least Sh10,000.
“I planted the rest on two acres from which I harvested 700kg that I sold some 100kg to various people, including at exhibitions, earning Sh200,000. This success made me lease the several pieces of land to grow the crop for commercial purposes,” says Gatimu, who employs at least 15 casual workers to assist him with planting, weeding and harvesting.
To plant the crop, the farmer ploughs the land and levels the ground. He then drills rows 2ft apart and plants.
Chia sprouts after about two weeks and germinates faster when there is good rainfall, taking some three months to mature. One must weed at least thrice before harvesting.
Gatimu grows the crop organically, as he does not apply fertiliser during planting and avoids application of pesticides, noting they destroy the quality of seeds.
“The crop is resistant to diseases and pest attack, making its organic farming easy. Some farmers dry the chia seeds using electricity, which destroys the nutrients. Majority of those who buy insist on organic seeds, which is why I process mine organically,” notes Gatimu, adding he is one of the biggest farmers of the new crop in the country.
Another advantage of the crop is that it is not prone to birds’ attack. On the edge of the pods are spikes that make it difficult for the birds to peck and break the hard brown cover to reach the seeds.
Chia is easy to grow but it has a set of challenges, especially during harvesting.
chia seeds
“Harvesting is labour intensive as I use a sickle to cut the plant at 4 inches from the ground at the point where it begins to branch.”
The next step is sorting the harvest to remove any unwanted materials, including weeds. The seeds are then left to dry for at least three days.
Marketing chia seeds in Kenya
“Besides my herbal business, I market the seeds through social media sites including Facebook and WhatsApp through the help of my son, an engineer, and people buy,” says Gatimu (66), who was licensed by the Ministry of Culture in 2007 to practice herbal medicine.
He is also a member of National Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association.
chia seeds for sale kenya
He attends numerous exhibitions, farmers’ trainings and seminars to learn and promote the crop.
Chia seeds can be eaten whole, ground into flour, pressed for oil or even prepared as a drink if soaked in hot water.
Monica Mburu, a food science lecturer and researcher at Dedan Kimathi University of Technology, says chia farming in Kenya is still new and few farmers are aware of the crop.
“Those who are growing the crop are doing it on trial and error basis relying on information from the internet,” she notes, adding that the crop has a high nutritional value and can be a good money-maker.
Prof Richard Mulwa, a horticulture expert from Egerton University notes that chia is an annual herb that grows up to a metre high with purple or white flowers produced in numerous clusters in a spike at the end of each stem.
It is grown commercially in the US, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Australia and Mexico for its seeds that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.
The seeds yield 25 to 30 percent extractable oil that includes alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Soaked seeds develop a mucilaginous gel-like coating that gives chia-based beverages a distinctive slimy texture.
“This crop has not been officially introduced in Kenya and, therefore, finding quality seeds may be difficult,” he says.
Benefits of Chia seeds
·         Chia seeds farming in Kenya is done for its seeds, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
·         The seeds yield 25–30 percent extractable oil, including alpha-linolenic acid.
·         Chia seeds are small ovals, mottle-coloured with brown, gray, black, and white varieties.
·         The seeds absorb up to 12 times their weight in liquid when soaked.

Chia seeds farming is easy and you can do it even on a quarter an acre and earn good returns after three months. 

To start, it is important that you have this guide at hand. It gives you all the information you need including contacts of where to get seeds. 

You can now request for it from our Resources Page

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