Kenyan farmers abandon food crops to grow herbal stimulant
SEE ALSO :Embu MCAs pass Sh6.6b budgetFactors like failing rains and new pests, linked to climate change, have likely played a role in muguka’s popularity at the expense of time-honoured crops such as maize, said Dickson Kibata, a technical officer at the AFA. Yet despite the extra income muguka brings, Kibata warned against relying solely on the narcotic plant. “Cash-crop farming cannot be the silver bullet that will pull farmers out of poverty, because consumption patterns keep changing,” he said by phone. “My advice to muguka farmers is to mix it with food crop farming to ensure the family food basket is secure, even as they look for money.” FOREST WARNING Environmentalists and lawmakers have also voiced concerns over the impact of the stimulant cultivation boom on forests. Every few months, the Atiriri Bururi ma Chuka community conservation group in Tharaka Nithi County reports several locals illegally growing an edible form of cannabis known as bhang in local forests, said its chairman Ngai M’Uboro. He expects it is only a matter of time before he and his colleagues start uncovering muguka farming in the area. “If the forest is already suffering because of grazing and bhang, it will not be long before we see muguka growing in the forest,” he said. Muguka’s potency is also making the authorities uncomfortable. In 2018, legislators in Mombasa and Kwale counties lobbied unsuccessfully for a sales and consumption ban on muguka over fears of addiction among young people. The National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse supported the move, citing social and health worries. “Muguka is worse than hard drugs because of its highly addictive nature. It is ruining homes, the country’s youth and should be banned,” said Victor Okioma, its chief executive. SUPERMARKET SHELVES? Yet, even with all the risks attached to muguka, many Kenyan farmers are hoping it will save their livelihoods. Along a 300-km (185-mile) stretch of cropland from the edges of the capital Nairobi to the lowlands opening into northern Kenya, maize farmers have been struggling with drought. Purity Muthoni, 32, a farmer from Kiriani village in central Kenya, said she would not hesitate to switch to muguka if she could. But the weather and soils where she lives, some 150 km from Njeru, are not suitable for growing the plant, she said. Noting the risks of depending on one crop as a source of income, the Embu County government last year said it would start distributing macadamia and avocado seeds to farmers to help them diversify their cash crops. But Njeru is not convinced any other crop can earn him the same returns he gets from muguka. If local leaders really wanted to help farmers, he said, they should find ways to add value to the plant by enhancing their access to industrial processing and retail opportunities. "I will be very happy the day I see packaged muguka being sold in supermarkets as a quality-assured product," he said.
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