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Electrician finds financial power in growing, selling chia

Saturday January 11 2020

Chia seeds are known to have a large quantity of vitamins and minerals, which help in body sugar balance.

Chia seeds farmer, Martin Humbu. The seeds are known to have a large quantity of vitamins and minerals, which help in body sugar balance. The minerals strengthen bones and prevent heart ailments and cancer. PHOTO | POOL 

MARY WANGARI
By MARY WANGARI
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In any investment, research is vital. You only ignore it at your own peril.

Martin Humbu, 54, knows this all too well. One day in 2017, he enjoyed a smoothie made from chia (Salvia hispanica) seeds. Little did he know that he would be quenching more than the ordinary thirst.

“I was smitten when I took the smoothie at a stall where I had several shoe-cleaning stands,” the one-time Kenya Power electrician said.

As a businessman, Humbu did some research on chia, a crop that was gaining popularity locally.

“I found out that chia seeds have many benefits. Chia has long been associated with the Aztecs in North America, where it was also known as a wonder crop, owing to its health benefits,” he said. Raising cash for growing chia was not difficult for the seasoned entrepreneur.

“I began farming chia in 2017, getting capital from my shoe-cleaning stands in Ngong and Karen,” he said. “I love farming and had earlier tried my luck in rearing quail.”

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He was lucky enough to meet a chia grower from Nakuru County who showed him what to do. The farmer also assisted him during planting on a piece of land Humbu had leased in Matasia.

“As a new chia farmer, I faced challenges. I had to find workers that I was to take through what I had already learnt,” Humbu said.

“The process was difficult because a majority of the ones I found only knew how to till maize or wheat farms. Chia farming is very different.”

He says in order to get maximum yields, a chia farmer must exercise caution right from the time of tilling the land, planting, controlling pests and diseases to the harvesting period. If a farmer is not careful during cultivation, he says, the plants will be stunted.

“One must ensure the soil is properly pushed against the straws in order to help the plants remain upright,” he said.

CHIA SEEDS CONTAIN NUTRIENTS
Constant application of manure on the land and spraying to kill pests and diseases ensure good yields.

“It may sound tiring but applying manure and organic booster two to three times a month will guarantee good harvests,” he said. He adds that harvesting is the most critical moment when producing chia.

“The real challenge is during harvesting since you must dry, pound and eventually sift the seeds. For best quality, the seeds must be sieved twice or three times. A whole day’s work yields approximately a sufuria of the seeds,” he said.
Worms that attack the crops are tackled by applying ash on the plants.

“Organic boosters work just as fine in fighting the pests,” he said. Humbu’s target market is nutritionists. At the beginning, getting market for his produce gave him sleepless nights.

“I encountered middlemen who only wanted to exploit me. I also tried supermarkets but they would bought my chia at very low prices,” he said.
That is when he was introduced to social media. Humbu began marketing the seeds through his Facebook page Chia Republic.

The results were incredible. Almost immediately, he was flooded with messages from potential clients.

“I got amazing results from people who knew the seeds. I sell a kilo at Sh700 to Sh1,200, though it depends on the negotiation,” he said. Chia seeds contain nutrients, amino acids and fibre, which are important for the body and brain.

They are known to have a large quantity of vitamins and minerals, which help in body sugar balance. The minerals strengthen bones and prevent heart ailments and cancer.

For those intending to lose weight or battle allergies, chia seeds are a perfect organic solution. Considering that the seeds are small and can blend well with water and fat, it is easy to incorporate them into any meal.

The seeds do not necessarily need to be ground before being consumed and can be eaten raw. One can also add chia seeds in their porridge, breakfast cereals, baked products, stew and other foods. They can be used to thicken broth or in place of eggs during meal preparation.