Chia, Salvia hispanica L., is a traditional food in Central and Southern America that is widely consumed for various health benefits especially in maintaining healthy serum lipid level, contributed by phenolic acid, omega 3 and omega 6 oils present in the chia seed. Chia seed and leaves are known to be protein-rich with good balance of essential amino acids making it suitable for malnourished children and adults living in rural areas who need better access to protein-rich food supply. The use of food with nutraceutical and functional properties for management of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular problems is now gaining momentum among the public. In Kenya demand for functional food with multiple health benefits has increased with increasing public health awareness worldwide. Chia is an exotic plant in Kenya where the effects of new growing environments and agronomical treatments on seed quality is not known and there is a need for validation by scientific research on the efficacy and safety of the active ingredients in chia seed and leaves that warrants its health benefits, as well as evaluation of its commercial viability in Kenya. In vivo and clinical studies on the safety and efficacy of chia seed is not known locally. This project aimed at investigating the viability of chia growing in Kenya, evaluation of its physical, chemical, nutritional and anti-nutritional properties based on geographical location, agronomic practices and post-harvest handling. The effect of farming systems, geographical region of growing, and value addition were investigated.

Background to the research

Kenya is faced by high malnutrition rates due to low nutrition priority from all sectors in the food chain. This requires urgent attention with introduction of exotic crops that easily adapt locally and can be grown with the existing ones. Chia is one of such crops that can enhance the nutrition status of food crop and fit in mixed cropping locally. In combination to other crops like amaranth, chia can form alternative to maize farming in Kenya which has aggravated food insecurity in the country due to its unreliable supply and low in essential nutrients. Farmers need to be sensitized to the benefits of growing chia which can be consumed as a raw seed, processed into flour, blended with other food or as a vegetable. Technically, chia seed is the fruit of a plant, thus contains more complete protein than other traditional grains. It is rich in fiber, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, antioxidants, unsaturated fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6, and vitamins(Jamboonsri et al., 2012). The chia cultivation is mainly in tropical and subtropical climate, situated between 0 – 2600 m altitudes, tolerates drought and salinity conditions, and does not withstand frost (Jamboonsri et al., 2012). It is known to grow in arid environments, therefore highly recommended as an alternative crop for the field crop industry(Peiretti and Gai, 2009).

According to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Kenyais in the progress of achieving measures to eradicate hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. This requires focus on issues related to health and nutrition and food shortages, through production of nutritious, high quality and healthy foods in the supply chain. One of the strong pre-requisites to attaining the targets of SDGs is broad based agricultural growth, by improving people’s access to more and better-quality food, raising farm incomes, creating employment on and off farm, empowering poor and marginalized groups including women. As reported in the Kenya Standard Newspaper, June 25, 2016, chia seeds are among the most highly rated super foods in the world, giving a promising future in combating food insecurity and boosting household health as a nutritionally balanced crop. As an exotic seed/vegetable crop it clearly indicates that chia is one plant that every home should have, whose nutritional components surpasses kale plants that are locally preferred as a staple vegetable. According to the Standard Newspaper report, even Peak Performance International Kenya recommends chia seeds for child’s genius brain development. The performance of the agricultural sector bears a huge impact on the performance of the overall economy and is a critical component for both rural development and poverty reduction. The availability and intake of major nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins play a critical role in the growth of human being and more so to children under five years. Due to the realization of most people across the world about the health benefits of Chia, there has been a rapid rise in its demand, with Kenya not left out. The few farmers growing chia, one in Nyeri County, can hardly give enough to the prospective customers.

The cultivation of chia in Kenya is very recent, having been introduced by community health life organization as a boost to manage lifestyle diseases and help the immune-compromised population to cope with health complications. In Nyeri County, only one farmer has been identified at King’ong’o, growing chia, with very promising output. Few individuals are consuming the seeds as a raw meal by soaking in water as it is known to produce large amounts of mucilage. In this context, chia commercial viability in Kenya in the context of food security and household nutrition, cascading to characteristics and classification, agronomic requirements, germination of seeds, and crop management practices, chemical and nutritional composition, postharvest handling, value addition and marketing need to be investigated.

Collaborating partners:

  • The Institute of Food Bioresources Technology (IFBT) is a faculty at Dedan Kimathi University of Technology that has the potential to provide food to the ever-increasing population through scientific research aiming at modernization of postharvest operations and agro-processing industries through innovative and appropriate technology that play important role in the national economy in the general and rural economy in particular. The Institute undertakes teaching and research in various filed of food science considering the whole food chain from farm to folk. This has resulted to the establishment of demonstration plots at the University main farm, for training and community linkages to the small holder farmers in the region. IFBT is well positioned for the implementation the project, with trained staff and institutional experience which gives strong leadership to the program.
  • Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), conducts research on agronomic evaluation of Chia on the suitability in different ago ecological zones and their response to different fertility and moisture regimes. The institute carry out research on crop health with focus on Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The institute focuses on generating and disseminating Chia crop information, technologies, knowledge and services that respond to client demands, for sustainable livelihoods.

Project Beneficiaries

The beneficiaries in this project are smallholder families who primarily depend on subsistence farming for their livelihood. They live and farm in the six sub counties of Nyeri County where the arid zone is densely populated leading to small land fragmentation hence less food per household, while the semi-arid zone suffers from food insecurity, due to long dry spell.

Project Collaborators

Dr. Monica Mburu (IFBT, DeKUT)is the Project Coordinator who provides general oversight and management for the project. Dr. Mburu is responsible for ensuring that all program activities are accomplished in a timely and effective manner, supervise and provide direction for project support personnel and oversee recruitment and monitoring. She also coordinates research on chia physico-chemical properties, nutritional characterization and in-vivo assay.

Dr. Francis Kihanda and Dr. Patrick Gicheru (both in KALRO) is Agronomy Experts who coordinated the evaluation of new and existing chia varieties on their performance and adaptability for various agro ecological zones and different moisture and fertility regimes.

Objectives of the research

Goal 1: To assess the opportunities and challenges in chia cultivation

  • Trial on cultivation of chia carried out with small scale farmers in the six sub counties of Nyeri County.

Goal 2: To investigate contribution of chia seed on dietary intake and nutritional status of different population groups.

  • Nutritional characterization, physico-chemical and functional properties of both chia seed and leaves carried out considering intrinsic and extrinsic effects.
  • Clinical trials on health benefits of chia to different groups in the population was assessed.

Goal 3: To establish market potential and commercial application of chia products

  • Value addition of chia seeds and leaves carried out under research to develop products for market penetration.
  • Promotion of chia products as functional food and nutraceuticals ongoing

Expected Outputs of the research

Goal 1:  To assess the opportunities and challenges in chia cultivation


  • Agronomic evaluation of Chia on the suitability in different ago ecological zones and their response to different fertility and moisture regimes
  • A baseline survey conducted to provide detailed information on the current status of the crop, followed by an impact assessment after one year of promotion.
  • Establishment of a demonstration farm at Dedan Kimathi University of Technology
  • Field chia farming – provision of seed to farmers, training on agronomic practices of chia, and evaluation of project success at the farm

Goal 2: To investigate contribution of chia seed on dietary intake and nutritional status of different population groups.


  • Nutritional Profile and chemical composition of Chia leaves and seeds grown in Kenya
  • Chia seed and leaves value addition and the effects of processing on nutritional and anti-nutritional quality.
  • Physical properties of chia seeds and leaves. 
  • Functional (gelling) properties of chia seeds
  • In vivo assay and clinical trials – Infant complementary food, and chia blending for immune-compromised population

Goal 3. To establish market potential and commercial application of chia products


  • Food Processing – Chia flour, chia fortified foods, chia leaves tea, chia oil
  • Identify different chia seeds-based recipes for health improvement – Functional foods, nutraceutical products
  • Development of processing equipment – Chia thresher


Vice Chancellor
The Dedan Kimathi University of Technology is a Premier Technological University, Excelling in Quality Education, Research, and Technology Transfer for National Development. It providesan academically stimulating culturally diverse and quality learning environment that fosters research, innovation and technology development towards producing relevant technical and managerial human resource and leaders to contribute to attainment of national development goals.” The University is founded on the belief that self-actualization and solutions to global challenges are attainable through a spirit of dedication, self-confidence, determination, and best utilization of resources.

The Institute of Food Bioresources Technology has been implementing the project “The Potential of Chia (Salvia hispanica L.) Farming in Kenya for Improved Food Security, Nutrition and Health”, promoting chia cultivation with small holder farmers of Nyeri County for value addition and product development. Under the coordination of one of the staff, Dr. Monica Mburu, the IFBT has set up a chia demonstration farm for stakeholders training and seeds production for use in research.  The proposed project will contribute to one of the DeKUT’s vision of leading innovation and sustainable development in agriculture through food science and technology.

DeKUT is promoting the creation of sustainable agribusinesses models for chia products through value addition linking farmers to markets and food systems. The project is quite beneficial to the IFBT as it has big responsibility in reaching out to the community to disseminate research information while working with farmers, and stakeholders concerned. This project builds capacity, knowledge generation and dissemination from the participating institutions and identifies further food security and intervention opportunities. As a research Institution, we interact closely with communities in developing joint action plans, and extension work for sustainable agriculture.

Director RIMCL

Among the Big Four Agenda is food security focusing on increasing production, processing, value addition and agribusiness while at the same time enabling the manufacturing pillar to play a leading role in promoting the economic development of the country. In regard to the Chia project, the Directorate of Research, Innovation Management and Community Linkages (RIMCL) appreciates the good work done by a network of inspiring as well as dedicated food scientists who have a fascination to pursue in-depth research and products development in the areas of food science and technology. In particular, the Institute of Food Bio-resources Technology (IFBT) is credited for moving towards low-cost effective technologies as well as using bio-friendly processes with emphasis on integrated technology. New food science technologies and techniques need to be economically feasible, environmentally friendly, socially acceptable and safe to use. The food industry is expected to utilize novel technologies whose purpose is to provide new quality attributes demanded by the consumers. Technical innovations will lead to the production of nutritious and healthy foods that have new flavours, textures and tastes, are more convenient to prepare and have a longer shelf-life. Investment in research at the University will continue to exploit new technologies, backed by efforts to communicate to the consumer the benefits of these technologies.

The Chia project implementers are expected to disseminate the research findings by means of interactive demonstrations that ensure two-way communication with the stakeholders. The Chia research is relevant and responsive to the local realities. The participatory research approach applied in the Chia project will yield a considerable amount of valuable information at relatively low costs and in a short time period. The next stage of the project entails undertaking a monitoring and evaluation process (M&E).  M&E will provide a context for the research partners to come together and to reflect on and discuss what they see as working well and what they think needs to be improved. Lastly, the Directorate of RIMCL is proud to be associated with the Chia project which can be termed as useful and very well implemented.

Director IFBT

On behalf of the Institute of Food Bioresources Technology (IFBT), I welcome you to Dedan Kimathi University of Technology. Through the existing novel programmes on Food Science and Technology and Nutrition, the Institute actively involved in promoting appropriate technologies and value addition in food processing, which in turn enhance the quality and safety of food. These programmes prepare students to apply the principles of science and engineering to ensure the quantity, quality, variety, attractiveness, and safety of foods.

Among the flagship projects hosted by the Institute include the chia project on ‘The potential of chia (Salvia Hispanica L.) farming in Kenya for improved food security, nutrition and health.’ Chia is regarded as a super food due to the rich profile of macronutrients, micronutrients and functional properties leading to its potential application in a wide spectrum of food products. It is anticipated that this project will greatly contribute towards the attainment of Kenya’s Vision 2030 and the Big 4 agenda national development goals aligned to food and nutrition security. The Institute gladly acknowledges the active participation of farmers and stakeholders within Nyeri County and is proud to associate with the workshop. We support the Principal Investigator, Dr Monica Mburu and her entire research team comprising undergraduate, MSc and PhD students in sharing the generated knowledge with the key stakeholders in the chia value chain.

Once again feel most welcome at DeKUT.

Chia Project Coordinator

Chia an indispensable crop in Kenya

In Kenya demand for functional food with multiple health benefits has increased with increasing public health awareness worldwide.  Chia (Salvia hispanica L.) is an exotic plant in Kenya where the effects of new growing environments and agronomical treatments on seed quality has is being exploited. It has a promising future for food security, improved nutrition and health.

The high malnutrition rate in Kenya is a serious public health problem that requires urgent attention from all sectors. Provision of nutritious food should be addressed across the food chain through introduction of novel crops that easily adapt locally and can be grown with the existing ones, like chia that can be an alternative to maize farming to enhance nutrition and supply. Chia is more suitable in the food industry due to its important physiochemical and functional properties. It is an excellent agent in food thickening, gel formation, chelator, foam enhancement, emulsification, suspension formation, clarifying agent and as a rehydrating agent. This makes it commercially viable for the development of new products enriched with omega-3, protein, soluble/insoluble fiber and phenolic compounds.

Research has shown that, chia seeds are also beneficial to animal feeds, where their addition resulted in a rise of alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and a reduction of cholesterol levels in eggs and meat.

Chia Project Agronomy Expert

Chia (Salvia hispanica L) is a summer annual herb of Lamiaceae family that is grown in a wide range of altitude between 400 and 2500 meters above seas level with an average annual temperature that range 200C to 300C and an average rainfall of 500 and 1000 mm. It was first introduced in KALRO Embu in 2019 for seed bulking. The Centre is Located in Eastern slopes of Mt. Kenya at 00°33.18’S; 037°53.27’E; 1460 m asl and in the upper midlands (UM2) zone. The region experiences 1250 mm average annual bimodal rainfall and warm temperatures ranging from 21 to 28ºC and 16 to 21ºC mean maximum and minimum.

The crop planted in the centre in 2019 gave an average yield of 1.10 tons/ha and an average biomass of 2.4 ton/ha under rain fed. The total rainfall obtained during the growth period was 168.7mm with a mean temperature of 16.7 to 19.1 0 C.  This is an indication that the crop is climate smart and more yield is anticipated in the current season that had more rains.  Different soil fertility enhancement has been tried which includes the combination of organic and inorganic fertilizer planted at varying crop densities at a spacing of 75, 60,30 and 15cm inter-row and 10 cm intra-rows.




Planting to harvesting of chia in KALRO Embu Long rains 2019