Miraa farmers turn to other crops as export freeze bites

A farmer harvests miraa in Igembe South. UK banned imports of the stimulant last year. [Olivia Murithi, Standard]
Miraa farmers are gradually embracing crop diversification to soften the blow of the stimulant’s export ban. 

Euticus Mwiti, who until 2015 had only grown miraa on his five-acre farm in Ntunene, Igembe North, said he was forced to plant bananas, macadamia and fruit trees.

“I was only planting miraa because of its monetary value, which has greatly diminished. I was earning up to Sh30,000 weekly from exports, which was good money, until the United Kingdom ban took effect,” said Mr Mwiti. 

Mwiti said a few of his neighbours had opted to give up miraa farming due to the reduced market for the stimulant.

SEE ALSO :Farmers abandon food crops to grow herbal stimulant

“Some of those who have uprooted most of their miraa trees are those who have one to two acres. They have replaced miraa with bananas, sweet potatoes and other crops. They have left a few miraa plants for sentimental reasons,” he told The Standard at Maua market in Igembe South.

Mathias Koome, a farmer at Antubetwe Kiongo, said many miraa farmers had never bothered about crops like maize and beans, opting to buy food ferried from Meru town to Maua, Laare, Mutuate and other markets in miraa-growing regions.

Mr Koome said they had only planted miraa because of the huge profits generated, adding that the decision by key lucrative markets overseas to stop imports had forced them to diversify.

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Emmanuel Miriti, a farmer in Kaleo, said he used to earn Sh50,000 a week from miraa sales.

“We will never uproot our miraa because of its economic and cultural value to us. But circumstances have forced us to diversify. We are getting little money and food from our farms but we are still recovering from the miraa ban in major markets,” Mr Miriti said.

SEE ALSO :Ex-Igembe North MP summoned over unpaid legal fees in miraa suit

Good schools

He continued: “My children were in good schools, but I had to withdraw them and take them to public schools. I have also uprooted 310 miraa trees and replaced them with fruit trees.”

Governor Kiraitu Murungi’s administration recently launched efforts to assist farmers in miraa zones to plant crops with strong export potential to enable them to have additional sources of income.

Mr Kiraitu distributed hundreds of thousands of seedlings procured from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

“I am encouraging farmers to plant macadamia, avocados and other crops, alongside the miraa crop. My administration will supply more seedlings,” said Kiraitu.

He pledged that his administration would assist farmers get markets for their farm produce.

Igembe South MP John Paul Mwirigi said he had worked to bring a major dealer in food items to buy bananas and other fruits from farmers and eliminate brokers who had previously exploited farmers.

Mr Mwirigi encouraged farmers to plant potatoes, bananas and other high value crops. “I have looked for markets for our farmers who grow bananas and other fruits because we are producing large amounts of agricultural products.”

Sweet potato farmers in the region also stand to benefit after the opening of a bakery in Maua town.

The Friends of Meru Sacco, which runs the facility, buys sweet potatoes from residents and mills the tubers to make flour to bake bread and cakes.

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