Somalia's Bakool bans miraa consumption

Beth Mbaya for Meru County Tourism Directorate displays khat (Miraa) at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre,Nairobi. (Photo/Elvis Ogina)
NAIROBI, KENYA: A federal region in Somalia has banned miraa consumption, causing panic in the local export chain.

Exporters fear the ban announced by the Bakool region could trigger a larger crisis in the embattled sub-sector.

Bakool, a small neighbourhood of sorts in south western Somalia, consumes one tonne of miraa a day. Supplies to Bakool land at the provincial capital of Hudur, according to local exporters.

A tonne is 10 sacks of special miraa worth Sh50,000 each plus a carriage cost of $3,000 (about Sh300,000), meaning the landed cost to the region for a tonne is roughly Sh800,000 a day.

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Miraa exports average 10 cargo flights a day carrying nine tonnes of the stimulant with a combined value of over Sh63 million.

"Our problem is they have the audacity to ban miraa. We view it as an indication of what the intentions are in other regions," said the treasurer of Nyambene Miraa Traders Association (Nyamita), Kimathi Munjuri.

The ban is also seen as alarming because traditionally it is radical islamist groups controlled territories under Al Shabaab that outlaw miraa consumption.

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But this time round the ban has been effected by a regional government allied to the transition government, which is seen as friendly to Kenya.

According to international news agencies, the region said consumption of the stimulant was adversely affecting military operations against Al Shabaab fighters, claims Nyamita brushed off.

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A nationwide ban last year by the Somali government was lifted when Kenya intervened diplomatically.

Nyamita believes that not enough has been done to cushion the sub-sector from such shocks.

Mr Munjuri said for the third straight day, their aircraft had not landed at Bakool’s Huddur airstrip.

“We have been losing daily because of the ban on miraa by Bakool. Usually, one Fokker 50 drops a tonne of miraa at Huddur then flies to Mogadishu to drop the other five tonnes.

“We have lost income for the past three days and our national government must intervene fast because livelihoods are threatened. Their claim that miraa is affecting the fight against Al Shabaab is suspect. How is that possible?” he asked.

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The official said usually 10 planes, including Fokker 50s, fly to Somalia ferrying miraa daily.

“Each tonne of miraa is valued at about Sh1 million. It is a big loss of income for our farmers to lose Sh1 million daily,” said Munjuri.

Miraa is not as dangerous as previously thought, claimed a new research earlier this year.

Among the benefits the Kenya Medical Research Institute study listed is that miraa helps in weight management. The miraa market has suffered hugely after the United Kingdom banned consumption in 2013.

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