What should be done for Kenya to benefit more from miraa

Miraa. It is categorised as a drug by NACADA. [Kelvin Karani, Standard] 

 In April 2016, the Agriculture Ministry gazetted miraa as a scheduled crop after which Sh1 billion was allocated for its development, marking a new chapter for the crop.

As part of reforms in the sub-sector, plans were put into place to ensure that the produce was handled hygienically and farmers assisted in improving production.

A market and sorting centre has been built at Muringene in Igembe Central and was recently commissioned by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi while construction of another one at Laare in Igembe North is ongoing. A number of boreholes have been sunk and farmers are using the water to irrigate their farms.

However, despite the progress, there are a few matters that deserve attention. For instance, some county governments have introduced arbitrary charges on miraa in markets which should be abolished since it’s hindering trade. Levies for all farm produce should be harmonised.

Also, claims of illegal charges at the airport where cartels are accused of introducing a new levy on miraa should be investigated and dealt with by relevant government agencies.

It is also surprising that while miraa is a scheduled crop, according to the Agriculture Ministry and is allocated funds from the Treasury, it is categorised as a drug by the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse. This contradiction is hurting the growth of the crop and inhibiting efforts to promote it.

On a positive note, the Kenya Bureau of Standards has developed standards that once fully implemented will improve hygiene which has been a matter of concern in the search for international markets. Without a doubt, the potential of miraa in value addition is huge, with research indicating that some of the products that can be made from the stimulant include wine, juice, flavoured tea, chewing gum, medicines and detergents.

However, for this to be realised, the establishment of the Miraa Research Institute which was entrusted to Meru University of Science and Technology should be fast-tracked. There is also a need to bring all stakeholders together as a follow-up to the gains made during the October 2021 National Scientific Miraa Conference held in Nairobi.

Notably, miraa is no longer a Meru affair with the crop now embraced by hundreds of farmers in Embu, Tharaka Nithi, Kirinyaga and Laikipia counties where another variety known as muguka is grown. There is a need to establish exactly how many farmers are engaged in growing the crop countrywide and the acreage so that resources are allocated accordingly.

Miraa is a high-income earner but for long, trade in it has had no proper structure like other cash crops such as coffee and tea and the introduction of a system where miraa is sold in recognised quantities like kilogrammes will benefit farmers.

Today, the crop contributes an estimated Sh40 billion to Kenya’s economy annually with a much bigger potential if opportunities around it especially in value addition are exploited.

Finally, besides Somalia where most of our produce is exported, a market that was restored in July 2022 by the Kenyan government after suspension since August 2020, there are potential markets in several countries in Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

It is clear that if properly marketed, miraa could play a crucial role in the economy of this country and earn huge amounts of foreign exchange.

-Mr M’eruaki is chairman, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service