- In a 2017 – 2018 publication by Africa Travel business .com guide it is stated that Salvia hispanica, commonly known as chia, is a species of flowering plant in the mint family.
The chia is a relatively new plant being grown by a few farmers in East Africa, particularly Uganda and Kenya for purposes of commercialising its seed which is considered medicinal.
Experts report that it was first grown across the world in Mexico and the Central America. Later it was adopted by farmers in Guatemala. The seed is making profits for small-scale farmers in Uganda.
Scientific makeup of the plant
In a 2017 – 2018 publication by Africa Travel business .com guide it is stated that Salvia hispanica, commonly known as chia, is a species of flowering plant in the mint family.
It is an annual herbaceous plant which is grown commercially for its seeds which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Those who know its benefits have used chia seeds as food and medical purposes and the new healthy life style adopted by individuals has attracted a niche for chia consumers in Uganda. Currently non-governmental organisations have come on board to encourage farmers in East Africa to grow the plant to meet the overwhelming seed demand in the local and international market.
One such a company is Momentum Trust, a Danish company based in Kenya working with farmers in Africa in a bid to improve production of the plant.
Most farmers engaged in growing the plant are mainly in eastern, westerne and northern parts of Uganda.
As such Seeds of Gold interviewed Dr Mike Segawa Ssali of Holland Greentech Ltd with expertise in agronomy of growing the plant.
This is in a bid share the information with farmers intending to grow the plant by following the right agronomy to achieve bumper harvest. Below are the excerpts.
Dr Segawa explains chia is a shrub plant which requires well drained loamy soils to grow. Farmers are advised to enrich the soil with humus such as manure made out of cow dung or chicken droppings for it to grow well.
Farmers are urged to avoid growing the plant on water logged soil where there is lack of aeration.
The soil will need clearing and fine tilling to make the soil soft, then farmers are expected to rake the land to remove all residue plants and weeds.
Since the seeds are tiny, broadcasting method would be the quickest way but planting in rows is also recommended.
Dr Segawa says chia plants can be grown directly from the seed or the seed is planted in nursery beds and then transplanted to the field.
Scientists advise farmers to plant the seedlings 12 to 18 inches apart to allow sunlight and aeration during growth. The plants grow up to four feet tall and 18 inches wide, while hybrids such as Byron Flint also known as Byron’s Mexican Sage which has been adopted worldwide grows up to six feet tall and three feet wide.
Like any other type of vegetable seeds the plant grows in slightly worm temperature of 20 – 25 degrees celicious. Farmers are expected to sow six kilogrammes of seed per hectare depending on the seed size.
A farmer will expect to harvest 450 to 1,250 kilogrammes per hectare depending on the yield rate.
The sprinkle method
This method is where raising of seedlings is done indoors and sprouting time is four to seven days depending on heat and warmth provided. When the sprouts are a quarter inch long, they are moved into direct sunlight. Chia seeds can also germinate successfully in pots. If a farmer wants to grow the plant indoors or close to the garden tap, sprinkle the seeds with water and this has to be done regularly.
When the sprouts are about three inches tall, they are ready for transplanting.
Weeding can be done after three to five weeks’ time depending on the weed level in farmer fields.
Harvesting, packaging and storage
Chia seeds are appropriate to harvest when the petals have fallen off. To harvest farmers are expected to pick the flower heads and hang them on a drying rack. After they have dried scramble the dry flower heads to release the chia seeds. Hull the seeds and use them appropriately or even keep them in a container for future use. A farmer is expected to package the seed in woven sacks of required quantity depending on customer demand.
How to use chia seed
Chia is very convenient and versatile. Most people chew chia seeds as snack others soak it in water ready for drinking. The leaves can be dried and drunk in tea and the soaked seed can also be sprinkled on food ready for eating. Other people use it to feed birds and get the protein nutrient from the meat.
Most companies purchase one kilogrammes of seed between Shs15,000 and Shs20,000 but through middlemen the price can drop up to Shs2,000 per kilogramme.
Pests and diseases
The plant is resistant to pests and diseases prevented by the oil substance in its leaves. However there are viruses which are capable of attacking it.
The common viruses are cucumber mosaic virus, mung bean yellow mosaic virus and broad bean wilt virus among others which affects the stems causing it to wilt and dry off.
In case of such incidence, farmers are advised to apply the appropriate chemical for spraying or use rudimentary methods of uprooting the affected plant and burning them.
In case of any insect attack farmers are advised to spray the field with Cypermethrin and Mancozeb insecticide which is a preventive measure.