Since the first lock down was announced by the president early 2020, life for many has been in disarray. Businesses have been shut down, farmers have adopted to new farming techniques, and students have had to stay home for prolonged periods of time.
As times continue to steepen, a 20-year-old is using this time to learn and sharpen his skills in his new found passion, farming. Raymond Kuria is a second year student at Multimedia University studying Mass Communication. When talking to Kilimo Insight, he confesses how farming never crossed his mind until he discovered chia seeds.
“Funny story, I was home one afternoon and was very hungry. There was nothing in the kitchen other than a jar full of dark tiny seeds. I had seen my mother put the seeds in water and even baked with them, so I decided to try them in water. From the first sip, I got a gag reflex and poured all my water. Immediately, I went to the internet and researched more about the seeds.” recalls Raymond.
Almost a year later, these seeds are giving him an income and a means to an end for his family.
Chia seeds originated from Mexico and are globally known as a super food. In Africa, production of chia seeds is promising despite the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic. This is because demand for export markets of the same is relatively high in comparison to domestic consumption, probably due to the low levels of awareness among African consumers on the benefits of the seeds.
“My research made reference to all the benefits of the seeds but what puzzled me was the retailing price of the seeds. I simply could not understand,” noted Kuria. A well packed bag of chia seeds will retail at approximately Ksh 250 for a 100g pack. A kilogram will retail between Ksh 1,500- Ksh 2,200.
At the time, it was the planting season for maize, Raymond requested his mother to spare him at least an eighth of the two-acre piece of land where she was planting maize.
“I remember my mother out rightly denying me the land portion. She called it an experiment. It took me two weeks to convince her as an aspiring farmer but at the end, I had to pay for it because she decided to lease it to me so I could learn as a true farmer.” said Raymond.
Chia seeds take approximately three months to mature. Growing the crop is not as stressful, compared to other crops that require high maintenance. A week after planting, one is likely to see the seeds sprouting. The promise of a good harvest is in the offing, with proper watering, weed control and application of organic manure as opposed to fertilisers which contain chemicals that can affect the antioxidant effect of the seeds.
The harvesting process is mostly manual. Once all the plants are harvested, they are put aside to dry for three to five days before crushing them. Storage is important because these seeds cannot be exposed to moisture.
“In my first harvest, I was able to harvest at least 150kgs. From that, I made Ksh 120,000 because I sold my harvest at Ksh 800 per kilogram. I did not know any better and when I look back, I know I was definitely short changed, but that has been part of the learning process for me. In fact, I remember feeling lucky to have a buyer who was a cereal shop distributor I was referred to.” said Raymond.
Today, Raymond and his mother have turned the farm to a chia farm and are producing at least 800 kgs of produce and selling at Ksh. 1,500 per kilogram. He further notes that he is looking to explore his network and become an exporter in 5 years after he has expanded his farm land. “Recently, I started a conversation with a friend of mine who I informed of my new venture. To my pleasant surprise, he told me that his university was conducting trainings for chia seed farmers in hope of exploring value addition for the seed, by developing products like chia yoghurts, lotions and capsulated chia oil. This gives hope for Kenya in its efforts to improving food security, nutrition and health.” said Raymond.