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Health benefits and increased demand for chia seeds entice Western Kenya farmers to grow the crop

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Packed chia seeds ready for market. According to dealers in the crop, its seeds are in high demand in both local and international markets hence increased need for growers. Photo courtesy.

About 2,000 farmers from Bungoma, Busia and Homabay counties in Western Kenya have ventured into chia crop farming to supplement their income owing to the crop’s high demand sparked by the nutrition value of its seeds. This is besides growing maize and beans which have been the dominant crop in the region.

According to a 2013 research by Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) on Agronomic and Financial Analysis of Maize-Legumes Production in Western Kenya, maize and grain legumes are the dominating crop enterprises in western Kenya and the crops have been in the recent past recording low yields and poor returns for the farmers.

It is because of this reason Momentum Trust, a Danish organisation based in Kenya with its headquarters in Suaya County and working with small-scale farmers in Africa has introduced chia, a crop whose seeds are on demand in both local and international markets to help the farmers get back to their earning ways.

“There is a ready market in Denmark which imports over 1400 tons of organic Chia Seeds annually and we also sell to local companies such as Healthy U. We always harvest between 2-5 tonnes of chia seeds which is not enough for export.” Said Philip Odhiambo, the organisation’s Homabay-Oyugis branch manager.

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Nutritionists assert that Chia seeds are good for boosting libido and they improve brain health. They are also a good source of Omega-3, essential fatty acids which the body cannot produce. They are also rich in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.

To work with the organisation, willing small-scale farmers are encouraged to form groups within their areas in order to meet production demands.

They then get registered with Sh300 per head, before being taken through agronomical training on the crop production.

“Chia is a new crop among many farmers in the country with a potential of doing well and earn them sweet returns. This is way we train our farmers giving them the required knowhow on best production practices to meet both local and international standards.” Said Odhiambo.

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From registration, the farmers are given organically certified chia seeds in form of a loan which they pay upon harvesting and selling the produce.

“We ensure that the farmers are not stranded with their produce after harvesting as Momentum Trust buys the seeds at Sh150 per kilogram.”

According to a February 2017 Market Research by Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) on production of different crops and nuts in Busia County, an acre of chia crop can yield up to seven tones of chia seeds under good agronomical practices.

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The seeds can fetch a farmer up to Sh1500 per kilogram in the local market and while Momentum Trust offers Sh150 per kilo, there is an intention by the organization to find a better price for their farmers.

“We have been mobilizing the farmers and there is increased interest among them to pick up the venture. However, there is a need for a higher price by the farmers as this will continue motivating them,” said Odhiambo.

“Chia seeds are grown organically without using harmful pesticides and chemicals. It can do well in various soil and climatic conditions. The plant is very hardy and grows in dry areas.”

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Chia sprouts after about two weeks and germinates faster when there is good rainfall, taking some three months to mature.

Currently Momentum Trust farmers in various have already started harvesting their crops expecting to realise five tonnes of chia seeds in one month.

Philip Odhiambo can be reached on +254 725 924401

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