For decades, Meru has been the doyen of miraa farming producing hundreds of tonnes every day, as the county’s economy grows and the farmers prosper.
In the 1990s, farmers in Mbeere region of Embu County discovered that a variety of miraa known as muguka could thrive in their semi-arid land and had a ready market.
Thus, commercial farming of muguka over the years transformed Mbeere from an impoverished place that relied on relief food whenever rains failed into a high potential area where farmers rake in millions from sale of muguka.
Traders from Embu and Meru have coexisted peacefully where they meet in the same markets in Nairobi, Machakos and elsewhere to sell their different khat varieties with disputes between them rare.
It therefore came as a shock to many a stakeholder when traders clashed at Kamuketha miraa wholesale market in Embu town on Tuesday night over trade and price wars dispute.
Khat valued over Sh1 million was destroyed during the scue while at least two traders were injured. Police were deployed to quell the situation.
The Mt Kenya Star has established the genesis of the dispute to price wars where “whenever Meru miraa arrives in the market, the price of Embu’s muguka falls by half.”
The clash was condemned from several quarters. It also drew tough talk from Embu MCAs who vowed to protect their farmers even if that means allocating a separate market for miraa from Meru.
The erstwhile unheard of trade dispute jolted the security apparatus and the Embu trade department into action in a bid to address the dispute and prevent it from recurring.
In a crisis meeting attended by the Embu County Police commander Daniel Rukunga, Embu Trade Executive Jamleck Muturi, Mbeembu Muguka Cooperative Union Jervasius Nyombyekothe, and trader’s representatives from both Embu and Meru it was resolved that the fracas must stop forthwith and business allowed to continue unabated.
“We advised the traders to form a committee for the business. The committee would be solving contentious issues and prevent them from escalating to what was seen at Kamuketha market,” said Nyombyekothe.
He downplayed the statements from MCAs about segregating khat varieties saying it could have been out of anger.
“If the two groups go by the advice we gave them, miraa business will go on smoothly for the benefit of all,” he says.
On the allegations that Meru traders mix inferior quality khat with Embu’s muguka and sell it cheaply to the disadvantage of Embu farmers, Nyombyekothe posits that is a bad business practice.
“We hear that some farmers pick the top leaves from miraa and pass it off as muguka which is a hot cake currently. If that is happening, it is wrong and should be stopped. We resolved that traders should engage in fair and ethical practices,” he said.
Nyombyekothe further shed light that many people from Embu County also move to Meru to buy miraa and while en route to Nairobi and Mombasa markets stop at Embu.
“If the traders stopover in Embu and mix their miraa with muguka then take it directly to far away markets, there is nothing wrong with that,” he argued.
He admitted he was aware that whereas at Kamuketha market muguka retails at between Sh600 and Sh700 per kilogram, Meru’s miraa sells at between Sh250 and Sh300.
Nyombyekothe expressed confidence that the Sh1 billion miraa kitty allocated by the national government to the miraa growing areas could help Embu, Meru and Thara- ka-Nithi Counties reach more markets and establish value addition chains.
“The progress for the construction of boreholes and earth dams to support khat farming in the three counties is going on well.
Tenders for building of market sheds has also been floated. Embu will get seven markets,” he said.
He said once regulations for miraa farming area in place, they will enable the stimulant’s marketing to be well organised thus avert disputes.
Nyambene Miraa Traders Association national chairman Kimathi Munjuri attributed the Kamuketha scuffle to instigation by politicians.
“What happened was regrettable and should never recur. From our history with Embu County, we have co-existed harmoniously and conducted the miraa business there without issues. I feel the scuffle was politically fueled,” he said.
Munjuri argues that the miraa business should be a free trade where willing buyers and sellers meet at the market.
He however concedes that selling Meru’s miraa passed off as Muguka might trigger issues.
He calls on the traders to join hands in jointly seeking for better markets instead of fighting one another as happened in Embu.
He cautions that violence can never resolve issues that are best left to market forces of demand and supply.
“Khat traders should let the consumer chew the stimulant of choice whether it is kangeta or muguka. We have muguka consumers in Meru who depend on supply sourced from khat farms in Embu,” he explains.
Munjuri is however optimistic that the implementation of pro- jects funded by the miraa kitty would help expand the market for miraa.
He urges the traders to learn from banana traders who cultivate different varieties and meet in the same market, yet they never fight but leave consumers to choose the variety of choice.
He prophesies that in the coming years muguka and miraa production will not be a preserve of only Meru and Miraa counties seeing other regions have embraced its farming.
“Farmers should look at the bigger picture and strategize on how they will cope when more thousands of acres of miraa spring up and eye the same market.
“Miraa is currently a national crop being grown mainly in Meru and Embu but other counties including Tharaka-Nithi, Nyeri, Machakos, Kirinyaga and the coast are starting its cultivation. Since miraa farming is profitable expect other counties and even countries to start producing it,” he cautions.
Munjuri advised miraa stakeholders to become enterprising to survive the onslaught when the crop floods the market. “Protection no longer works as a tool of trade. We need to keep innovating quality wise, value addition and in marketing,” he says.
But he assures farmers not to panic since the local consumption of khat is also growing as the stimulant fast becomes a choice habit for leisure time for many.
Contacted, Embu Trade Executive Jamleck Muturi said the county will treat all traders equally and involve every stakeholder in resolving disputes that arise.
He urged farmers and traders to take cognizance that whatever they produce they cannot consume by themselves alone, but must sell the surplus elsewhere and also purchase from other places what they do not consume.