News and knowhow for farmers

Halt in miraa exports grounds Sh16M daily trade

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By George Munene

Before the first case of Corona virus was reported in the country on 13th March, 50 tonnes of khat worth Sh16 million was shipped daily to Somalia from Igembe’s three main miraa growing regions; Meru North, South and Central.

An agricultural sector that is the main source of livelihood for up to 50,000 households has ground to a halt; with no end in sight for the pain that miraa farmers have endured for the last eight months.

“Schools are just now reopening, my members are going to seek for soft loans SACCOS would usually easily advance to them, but are being turned down. The picking, packaging and transport costs for miraa are about Sh1000/kg; local markets are oversupplied –you’ll get no more than Sh1000 for the same. It is not a question of how much less farmers are earning, there just is nothing to earn,” says Kimathi Munjuri, chairman of the 38,000 registered member, Nyambene Miraa Traders Association.  

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With the onset of rains, miraa in shambas is now more prolific than ever. The government’s forever delayed promise of having the situation resolved means farmers have to reach into their own pockets to cover for harvests with money they barely have to help maintain their trees. What was once one of Kenya’s most lucrative crops— within the country, a kilogram of kangeta fetched Sh2000 and that of kisa Sh3000; exports, done in 100 kilogram bundles fetched Sh20,000 each— now serves as no more than mulch for shambas.

The situation for miraa farmers looks even grimmer owing to a diplomatic impasse with Somalia which is seeking formal redress from Kenya over:

  • Its violation of Somalia’s airspace
  • Kenya’s perceived interference in Somalia’s internal affairs and its treatment of Somalia as a smaller brother rather than equal
  • Kenya’s allowing in Somalian goods such as fish, rice, honey, meat and milk
  • Stopping the mandatory spot check of Somali flights at Wajir for inspection

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This has allowed Ethiopia to steal a march on Kenya and begin exporting its khat into Somalia. This worries Kimathi—“as Somalian khat consumers acquire a taste for Ethiopian miraa, Kenyan farmer face the prospect of losing the market completely,” he warns.

The halt in business has left the towns of Laare, Mutuati and Maua as ghost towns and the multiplier effects on the wider economy of the region are only just beginning to be felt.

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