Most hills of two sectors in Remera and Rurenge, Ngoma District, have turned purple, as blossoms of chia seed crop give farmers a hope of unprecedented income at the end of the season again.
It all started in 2018 when the new crop was tried in four farms in Ngoma 22 irrigation scheme located between the two sectors, with the result attracting the interest of more farmers.
The crop mainly produced for export is served as a food supplement; it was grown on about 100 hectares in the Ngoma 22 irrigated area this season by around 400 farmers, with many other farmers growing it in their respective lands across 14 sectors of the district.
This is one of a few crops that a farmer grows with certainty of a market; as they sign contracts with the buyer before planting it every three months.
This is the second season that Protais Simpindurwa, father of four hailing from Rwamutabazi, Ndekwe Cell in Remera, is going to harvest chia seed; last season, he got 120 kilos from a half hectare land.
“Here, if you want to make money fast from agriculture, you grow chia seed,” he said.
“Previously, we grew maize here, I could get Rwf150,000 from my half hectare land, while I now get more than Rwf300,000 a season from the same land. The profits have doubled!” he pointed out.
Though the crop is not part of their food staple, the farmers affirm that they are able to buy any food they want because they have money.
Vestine Umuhoza, said it has been two years since she started growing chia seed, and she found it very profitable. “After seeing that others are making a lot of money, we joined,” she added.
Umuhoza is expecting about 600 kilos this season from her hectare farm, estimating around Rwf1,800,000 soon. This crop will help her get a stable life with her own child and three others she has adopted.
“After one harvesting season, you can get the capital to start a business project depending on your idea,” she declared.
This crop productivity has also given an inspiration to younger generations to jump in agriculture, as witnessed by Sandra Urwibutso, 18, from Cya Kabiri Village, Ndekwe Cell in Remera.
She said she tried it in a “very” small space, where she got 13 kilos, and this time around, she is doing it seriously on a large land that her parents gave to her.
“Chia seed is becoming a source of money for youth people like us who want to solve problems for ourselves. I had to try to see what I would get. I expect a lot of money soon,” she declared, adding that she is doing it on about a hectare.
Most of the chia farmers in this area are members of Koperative Tuvugurure Ubuhinzi Ngoma 22 (KOTUNGO), which was established in 2018 to use the dam constructed in partnership of Japanese and Rwandan governments, which waters fruits and vegetables on 227 hectares on hillsides of two sectors.
Protais Mutaganzwa, the chairperson of the cooperative of 1,180 members, said the cooperative has a deal with an exporting company to grow chia seed organically, and any farmer interested must sign a contract before growing it, to commit adherence to organic farming conditions.
Protais Simpindurwa, with bags of chia seed produce.
“Some chia farmers have already bought motorcycles, modern breed cows, houses, others have bought more farms, and those success stories are also told by women. Many more will plant chia seed this September,” he said.
Mutaganzwa revealed that the farmer on the top of the payment list is set to get Rwf5,149,795 at the end of this season.
The cooperative also grows maize and vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants and chili, they also have fruits like passion fruits and tamarillos.
Bertrand Nkurikiyimana is from Akenes & Kernels, the company that introduced chia seed in Ngoma, the district which is also the largest producer of the country, other districts producing the crop include Kirehe, Bugesera, Kayonza, Nyagatare and Rwamagana.
He said this season chia seed is on more than 500 hectares across the country, but it is sort of their willingness to limit the number of growers because they have to control every farm, to make sure they grow organically, avoiding chemical fertilizers and spraying.
“We try to limit the number of farmers in order to control the quality, we do not want to lose the quality because quality is actually what we sell,” he explained.
“There is a large market we are negotiating in China, we are going to start exporting in Dubai soon, we are also waiting for certificates allowing us to export to Europe,” he said, adding that they are still in the production phase, before starting the exportation.
Nkurikiyimana said that in the next three or four years, they target that the crop will be grown on around 30,000 hectares of the country.
Ngoma District Vice Mayor for Economic Affairs, Cyriaque Nyiridandi Mapambano, said: “In crops we have, it is rare to find a crop that sells at Rwf3,000 per Kilogramme , so chia seed a good crop for us, and the most important is the fact that you grow it with certainty that you will get a market ahead of the season.”
According to the vice mayor, at least 95 per cent of Ngoma District’s population are crop and livestock farmers, and most of the developments established in this area revolve around agriculture promotion and facilitating the farmers to improve livelihoods and to boost productivity.
Early in June, for instance, the district provided 70 bicycles to community agriculture sensitizers from 14 sectors who teach farmers on improvement of their farming, and inaugurated a grain storage for Mutenderi Sector farmers on the same day.
Some 150 motor pumps for small-scale irrigation were distributed this year through the Nkunganire programme, which allows the farmers to pay 50 percent of the cost, with the government paying the remaining cost.
“Agriculture is a key to our district’s economic development,” Mapambano stated.
Besides chia seeds, Ngoma District, which has 867.74 sq. Km and 338,562 population (as of 2012 census), is mostly known for large banana and pineapple plantations. There are an estimated 23,000 hectares of banana plantations in the district, with productivity of 24 tonnes per hectare every year, and 2,800 hectares of pineapples, which produced 86,000 tonnes in 2020, mainly supplied to Kigali markets.