A farmer Madappa of Bidarahallihundi village in Heggadadevana Kote taluka of Mysuru who grew traditional crops like tobacco, millets, etc. said that Chia has transformed his life. Earlier these farmers worked like slaves in their own farms, but now they feel like kings as the climatic conditions of Mysuru district favored crops like rice, sorghum, ragi, pulses, sugarcane and tobacco, farmers here have been growing them for generations. Farmers of Mysuru, known for the pomp and gaiety of its traditional 10-day-long Dasara festival, are writing a new chapter, growing this popular crop that retails for Rs 100-odd for 100gm in metros.
The seed has really transformed the lives of hundreds of farmer in the district without any government help as it has enhanced their agricultural income in a big way. Farmers growing traditional crops like tobacco, millets, etc., said that their life has been transformed after growing chia.
The seed was introduced by the team of Ram Rajasekharan, former director of Mysuru-based Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) and his colleagues, biochemist Malathi Srinivasan and plant breeder R. V. Sreedhar that introduced Chia as a crop among Indian farmers.
The other crops of Mysuru’s horticulture are Nanjangud Rasabale banana, Mysuru betel leaves, Mysuru mallige (jasmine) and Erengere brinjal, which are however vanishing due to the state’s indifference and the changing preference of the consumer. In recent years, it’s the Chia seeds that have brought the district into the limelight.
Chia seeds are mostly imported from Mexico and are readily available in health and lifestyle stores in the country’s metros, having been imported from Mexico.
Research has been done on the crop at 38-acre Bengaluru campus of CFTRI, in 2012. Through pure line selection, CFTRI developed a pure line with blue flower and white seeds, and a high yielding line of white flower and white seeds and have tested them through five generations.
In October 2014, CFTRI organised an all India farmers’ empowerment program, where hundreds of farmers who had come from different parts of the country were gifted 100gm pouches of Chia seeds along with information on agronomical practices to be followed.
Profit from Chia
Farmers like Madappa of Bidarahallihundi village find returns from chia cultivation much more than that from other crops. Farmer Madappa (62) sowed chia in a quarter-of-an-acre while in the rest of his 15 acres he continued with tobacco, sugarcane, cotton and millet. After three-and-a-half months, he harvested 80 kg of chia seeds and gifted it back to CFTRI and some of the farmers discarded the seed pouches.
Madappa said “What I have been earning from chia is in no way comparable to what I get from all the other crops put together,” I grow chia in about five acres. I harvest nearly four quintal per acre and receive between Rs 150 and Rs 200 per kg. In off-season it’s nearly Rs 300 per kg.”
On an average, farmers harvest about 8-10 quintals of ragi (finger millet) per acre with cultivation costs ranging between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000. The cultivation costs of chia is a couple of hundred whereas the yields are 3 quintals an acre for the white variety and about 5 quintals for the black variety. While ragi fetches around Rs 2,500 per quintal, white chia brings Rs 22,500.
Chia is, is a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids, a plant of South American origin, chia (Salvia hispanica), a popular nutraceuticals, is a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids and is gaining popularity across the world because of its nutrition value. Calorie content is less than flax seeds. It has more fibre and contains 1.5 – 2 times more of the bone-strengthening minerals calcium and phosphorus, as well as slightly more iron.
Also unlike flax seeds, it does not contain anti-nutrients like cyanogenic glycosides. “Secondly, since 2000, India has been witnessing increased use of sunflower oil, which has resulted in a drastic imbalance of the essential fatty acids with more intakes of omega-6 fatty acids. Elaborating on chia’s importance in our diets, Rajasekharan said that unlike flax seeds, it does not contain anti-nutrients like cyanogenic glycosides.
An opposition from the research community was also been faced by Rajasekharan from the public at large and the research community as well for introducing an alien crop, and not promoting traditional millets, in spite of the fact that millets originally came from Ethiopia.
High return at low cost
One of the farmers, Kurubur Shantakumar (58) who has been growing chia in three acres in Bidarahallihundi village told that “It’s a crop that hardly needs any inputs or fertiliser; cattle and wild animals do not prefer them." Most farms in the district are on the periphery of forests or what is known as the Mysuru Forest Division. The benefit of growing this crop is that it is also not a part of an elephant corridor or migratory route,and also doesn't witnesses incidences of human-elephant conflict as herds destroy crops.
Duration of sowing
It is the plant that that prefers shorter light periods; chia is sown after June-July or in October-November. Chia would be harvested by March, as being practiced by the Mysuru farmers for the past five years. What began as an experiment with a handful of farmers has increased to chia being grown in over 300 acres involving 200 cultivators.
Assisted by CFTRI, chia growers formed the Raithamitra FPC in 2014 and presently have 1,200 members. It promotes cultivation of chia, with a buyback offer. From vegetables and food grains to fruits, Raithamitra buys produce from farmers and sells them to entrepreneurs. Having recently launched chia seeds for supermarkets, it plans to launch chia oil, which is likely to retail for Rs 6,000 for 100gm.
Puneeth Kumar Jain of Hullahalli village in Nanjanguda taluk having worked for an electronics firm for a couple of months, the 21-year-old diploma holder has returned to his village to take up Chia farming. Puneeth’s family owns a 10-acre farm plot and traditionally grows tobacco, ragi and sugarcane. The success stories of chia farmers have motivated him too. He has set aside two acres for growing chia and plans to increase its acreage in the coming years.
Almost all the villages have about 250 families. Every village has a high school. For further studies, children travel to nearby towns, commuting in state transport buses. On completion of studies, they seek jobs in towns, unwilling to work the family-run farms. With chia promising handsome returns, elders hope that the youth would return to farming. According to him, why should he work for someone else when he can be my own master and employ others too?
Puneeth’s family owns a 10-acre farm plot and traditionally grows tobacco, ragi and sugarcane. The success stories of chia farmers have motivated him too. He has set aside two acres for growing chia and plans to increase its acreage in the coming years.