By Jolly Gwari

It is very important for farmers in Uganda to think about farming chia seeds because they are not only delicious to eat but also serve as a cure for a wide range of diseases. Notably, it has been recently by researchers and also the ABCafrica entrepreneurship that Chia seeds contain large amounts of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, plenty of high quality protein, and several essential minerals and antioxidants.  Therefore, the new healthy life style adopted by individuals has attracted a niche for chia consumers in Uganda.

Soil requirement

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. These being enriched with humus makes the plant vigor even better. 

How to propagate chia seeds

Chia plants can be started using the tiny chia seeds. These usually take like a week to give off sprouts. Sprinkle a few seeds over the soil and rub gently to cover them. Water the seeds daily, and within about a week you can expect to see chia sprouts. When planting chia seeds directly in the garden, create a carpet of chia and then thin the plants as they grow.

How to plant chia seeds

 When planting chia what you only need to put energy in is clearing the site to make a fine tillage. Then rake the land to remove all residue plants and weeds. Raffling or broadcasting the seeds would be the quickest way but I recommend the broadcasting be done in rows of 1-2 cm deep. This eases weeding as the chia plant grows. Gently cover the seeds with soil and then a gentle sprinkle of water. 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.

Weeding chia seeds

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.

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.

A bout the market and uses of chia

Most people’s diets are dangerously low in essential fatty acids, which results in tired muscles, fatigue and so many other health problems.Consumption of chia seeds comes in handy to avert these health problems as the chia seeds are rich in omega-3.  The young herbaceous chia plant leaves are dried to create tea leaves which is proved to treat mouth ulcers and reduce of bad fats in the body.

Chia seeds provide fiber, which improves digestion and also helps reduce cholesterol levels, and a protein which the body uses to repair and build cells. Traditionally, chia has been used to calm nerves and strengthen the memory, but the most high-profile value of chia comes from the seed’s ability to give energy. 

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