Agri Business

How Mexican chia seeds are taking root in Mysuru

Vishwanath Kulkarni Mysuru | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on January 09, 2017

Farmer Shivappa of Bidarahalli village, Mysuru, standing on his chia field. - Vishwanath Kulkarni

A farmer holding Quinoa seeds

Packed with protein, fibre and Omega-3, the superfood is helping ryots reap rich returns

Shivappa, a small farmer in Bidarahalli village of Mysuru district, is hoping to make a decent return from the white chia seeds planted on his 1.5-acre farm. He has been assured a buy-back price of ₹22,500 a quintal by the Mysuru-based Raitha Mithra Farmer Producer Company, which helps growers in the region sell their chia seeds.

Chia, considered a super food because of its high protein, fibre and Omega-3 fat content, has caught the fancy of many a farmer in the Heggada Devana Kote taluk of Mysuru, bordering Kerala. This assumes significance considering that the Omega-3 deficiency level is high in India, according to a recent global survey.

Introduced a couple of years ago by the Mysuru-based Central Food Technology Research Institute (CFTRI) through Raitha Mitra, white chia is helping growers in the region earn profits that are in multiples of what they used to earn traditionally by growing ragi.

Comparing ragi and chia

“I am expecting a yield of at least three quintals per acre this year,” said Shivappa, adding that returns from chia were almost double that of ragi, the staple in the region, which he used to grow till a couple of years ago. “Last year, I grew the black chia variety, which fetched a lower price of around ₹8,000 per quintal. But this year, I am hoping to earn double that of what I got last year,” he said.

Farmers in the region, on an average, harvest about 8-10 quintals of ragi per acre and the cultivation costs range between ₹10,000 and ₹15,000. Similarly for chia, the cultivation costs are around ₹15,000/acre, whereas the yields are 3 quintals an acre for the white variety and about 5 quintals for the black variety.

Ragi fetches around ₹2,500 per quintal, whereas white chia earns them ₹22,500.

Value-added products

The white variety is priced at a premium as it blends well with Indian food products. CFTRI has developed chia-blended products such as ice creams, chocolates and jams, which are being commercialised by various companies.

“Chia is a good alternative and vegetarian source of Omega 3. We are trying to bring as many products as possible by blending chia seeds,” said Ram Rajashekaran, Director, CFTRI. “My main aim is to push chia into mid-day meal programmes and we are in discussions with several States,” Rajashekaran added.

High returns, lower cultivation costs, water consumption, and a short duration of 90 days largely untouched by pests and animals are the primary reasons farmers have taken an interest in chia seeds, both white and black.

“I have been growing chia seeds for the past four years,” said Madappa, a large farmer in Bidarahalli, near the Kabini Dam bordering Kerala. “Earlier, we faced marketing issues. But after Raitha Mithra stepped in, the concerns have been eased a bit,” he adds.

Marketing the seed

CFTRI has been supplying white chia seeds to growers through Raitha Mitra for the past two years. “Prior to that farmers in the region already had access to the black variety through various means. Farmers have been growing chia seeds for the past four years, and faced huge challenges in processing and marketing this exotic seed, which originated from Mexico. But when we stepped in, we assured a buyback for the growers, providing a higher price,” says Kurubur Shantkumar, Chairman of Raitha Mitra FPO.

“For example, last year we paid farmers a net price of ₹22,500 a quintal, after deducting the processing and marketing costs. This year we have already entered into a buy-back contract assuring a net price of ₹22,500,” Shantkumar adds.

Raitha Mithra has also set up a processing unit at APMC Mysore with an investment of ₹3 lakh, where the seeds are cleaned and packed. Last year, Raitha Mitra exported chia seeds to Singapore, Malaysia and even the United States, besides selling them to domestic customers, including those from Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Chennai. It also sold chia seeds worth ₹11 lakh to various large customers — mainly the domestic retailers and exporters.

In the current year, Raitha Mithra has given the seeds to around 80 farmers in the region.

“There’s a lot of interest among farmers to grow the chia seeds, but we are trying to put a cap through restricted distribution of seeds as a surge in production could result in a glut and pose marketing challenges,” Shantakumar added.

Quinoa enters UP

CFTRI had also introduced Quinoa, another superfood along with chia, for which the response from Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh farmers has been very good, Rajashekaran said.

Published on January 09, 2017
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