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A Guide on How to grow Chia in Kenya

Why Chia

Chia (Salvia hispanica L.) is a traditional food crop belonging to Lamiacea family, native of Central and Southern America. It is widely consumed for various health benefits especially in maintaining healthy serum lipid level contributed by phenolic acid, omega-3 and omega-6 oil present in the chia seed. It is a plant of great economic importance to many Native American tribes in California, who have long used chia for food and medicinal purposes.  Salvia hispanica L. acquired the common name chia from the indigenous South American people of the pre-Columbian and Aztec eras due to its medicinal uses. Salvia hispanica is the only domesticated plant, and not any other species of the genus Salvia. However, misidentification can occur due to similarities with the wild species.

Chia seed and leaves are known to be protein-rich with good balance of essential amino acids making it suitable for malnourished children and adults who need better access to protein-rich food supply. The use of food with nutraceutical and functional properties for management of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular problems is now gaining momentum among the public.

Chia plant in the field

Mixture of black and white chia seeds

White chia seeds

Black chia seeds

How to Grow Chia

Chia is a fast-growing plant that is indeed resilient to heat, drought, disease, and pests. Needing little by way of fertilization, they are very low-maintenance, are self-pollinating and self- sowing, and are great for crowding out weeds. However, chia plant performs better when supplied with enough water and weeded well and frequently.

Land preparation for chia planting

Manure application before planting

  • Light Requirements – Chia flourishes in full sunlight. When selecting a site for planting, consider a spot that receives 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight.
  • Soil – Chia prefers loose, well-draining, light to medium clay or sandy soils. Prepare the bed by tilling the top 8 inches of soil.
  • Watering – Irrigate young plants daily until well established. Mature plants are tolerant of dry periods and need only occasionally watering when rainfall is low.

Chia under drip irrigation

  • Manure application – When first prepping the garden bed, amend soil with compost or other organic matter. After this initial boost of nutrients, chia shouldn’t need any extra fertilization.
  • Sowing – sowing of chia can be done through broadcasting or sowing them in furrows. They do not need to be buried rather they only need to be covered by a thin layer of soil to prevent them from being eaten by birds and other predators.
  • Spacing – Space plants 12 inches apart. After planting, thinning (uprooting the weak plants) should be done to ensure that the actual spacing is achieved.

  • Branching of a single chia plant when well-spaced A well-spaced chia plot

  • Weeding – weeding should be done frequently to ensure that chia is not suppressed by weed.
  • Chia crop immediately after first weeding (first month)

    Chia after second weeding (Second month)

  • Harvesting – harvesting is usually done after about 4 months once maturity is reached. A mature chia plant is ready for harvesting when all the petals have fallen. It is advisable to harvest the chia tussles when they are still green and dry them before rather than waiting for them to dry in the field to prevent seed fall wastage.
  • A flowered Chia plant (3 months)

    Petals falling off an indication that chia is maturing and almost ready for harvest

    Dry chia ready for harvest (4 months)

  • Diseases and crop management of Chia:  Chia crop is not affected by major pests or diseases, due to essential oils in the leaves that make the crop suitable for organic cultivation. However viral infection, sometimes transmitted by white flies, may occur.
    Weeds can create a major problem during the early growing period of the Chia crop until its canopy closes, but because Chia is sensitive to most commonly used herbicides, mechanical weed control is preferred.

Important Tips for Chia Seeds Cultivation

  • Don’t pick off the weeds until you are ready to fill the space.
  • At the time of planting, take up work very gently. Don’t dig up or turn all the top soil, there will be more chances to expose lots of new weed seeds.
  • Sow the new seeds in a freshly cleaned soil, without giving a chance to deeper weed seeds to grow up.
  • Regular application of mulch and compost will improve the growth of plants and also controls the growth of weeds. Compost application will make the crop healthier as your plants grow, top dress the soil with the compost or organic manure which gives a constant supply of nutrient to the soil.
  • Weeding and water are very important in chia farming. Always ensure that your chia farm is free of weeds in order to maximize your yields.

The cost Producing Chia under one acre of land

One acre of land requires 2 kgs of seeds for planting.

The approximate yield is 500kgs per acre.

Approximately, the cost of producing Chia is Kshs 50,000.00

Currently farm gate price for chia seeds per kg is 300 shillings

Expected gross margin is Kshs 150,000.00

Therefore, net profit will be Kshs 100,000.00