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About a kilometer from Ngusisihi market in Meru County lies a two-acre piece of land that is fully covered with a crop that many of the residents have never seen before.In fact when the Standard team arrived at the farm, we found a group of men who were trying to make out the type of crop before stopping the owner Mr Paul Kithinji so he could tell them what it really was.According to Mr Kithinji, Chia seeds are foreign crops mainly grown in Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Bolivia.Chia seeds farming has been practised in Mexico for the last 60 years.The seeds were first introduced in Kenya specifically in Kisumu by Mr Kithinji's friend who worked in Mexico.Being a project planning manager and a researcher by profession, Mr Kithinji was invited to Kisumu by the friend so that he could find out the specific areas the seeds could do well.Mr Kithinji suggested Molo which he says has an environment closer to Mexico and the seeds started doing well.He later introduced them to Meru County where he realised they were doing better than the overseas countries and two times compared to Molo.Some of the areas where Chia seeds is doing well in the County include Timau, Ruiri, Giaki, Chaaria and Githongo.
"Generally, Chia seeds will do well in hot and warm environment and where soils have high acidity. It fits into the shoes of wheat, " said Mr Kithinji.PlantingChia seeds are easy to plant once you acquire the planting seeds in case if one is a first time farmer.Those in need of the seeds can acquire them by linking up with Mr Kithinji or those who have been planting them though they are very few.With the seeds ready for planting, one digs a four-inch wide furrow with a spacing of about two feet from a line to the other.The seeds are then placed in the furrow through a method similar to broadcasting and covered with a little soil.Before planting, land is tilled normally and if not fertile enough, one should add organic manure as opposed to fertilizers which contain chemicals that can affect the antioxidant effect of the seeds."You are not allowed to use any chemicals including pesticides and fertilizers. In case of any pests, Chia seeds has ability to defend itself by dehydrating such pests through the sap they suck, " said Mr Kithinji.Chia seeds takes about three months to mature in suitable places.HarvestingHarvesting of Chia seeds is partly mechanical and manual.Once mature, the plants are cut and allowed to dry for two to three days before they are crushed using a machine.Afterwards, they are stored in a sac or a container that cannot allow moisture to get in as this will affect the seeds which are easily soluble."It requires great hygiene while handling the seeds since they can't be washed using water in case they are handled in dirty environment. It is also impossible to separate it in case it mixes with other small seeds like Terere, " Mr Kithinji said.To avoid the above incidents, weeds should be gotten rid of before harvesting to avoid the risk of their seeds mixing with Chia seeds.ConsumptionChia seeds is consumed by mixing a spoonful in a glass of warm water after which it dilutes to form a thick solution.It should not be mixed with other foods or cooked as it will just turn to be another roughage.Health benefits of Chia seedsThe seeds have a lot of omega 3 which is good for brain and heart, calcium, phosphorus, and antioxidant which has ability to extract poisonous contents from the blood system.It is rich in fiber capable of feeding bacteria in the stomach to make them docile.They also have capability of extracting cholesterol from the blood veins and control of acid which cause inflammations.Monetary valueAccording to Kithinji, the demand for Chia seeds both locally and internationally cannot be met easily.Recently, he adds, a British company had ordered one tonne of the seeds but he hasn't enough to supply."We expect that the demand will keep on going high as people continue to know of the magical seeds that can eliminate possibilities of cancer, " says Mr Kithinji.An acre of land can produce about 400 kilogrammes of Chia seeds and a kilogram is bought at Sh500 locally.This means in his two acres, he will pocket around Sh200,000 in a span of only three months.The deal is even better for him after packaging the seeds in a 200 grammes packet that is sold at Sh200.This means he will be expecting to pocket about Sh400,000 of he goes this way.Mr Kithinji who has practiced this farming for the last three years says he has seen a change in his life both economically and health wise.He says he decided to introduce this farming in Meru County after realising that it was leading in cases of cancer, diabetes, arthritis, all which can be toned down by use of Chia seeds which have ability to extract causative agents from the body."Few people in our area can also afford balanced diet and Chia seeds is beneficial as it has all the nutrients needed by the human body, " said Mr Kithinji.He is appealing to farmers in the County and other regions to adopt this farming that will not only put money into their pockets but also ensure they lead a healthy lifestyle.
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