Miraa farmers raise alarm over cartels, low prices

A miraa vendor preparing his miraa for sale at Kongowea Market in Mombasa County on October 19, 2021. [File, Standard]

For the last few months Erick Gitonga has been harvesting loads of miraa and feeding part of it to livestock.

The miraa prices have plummeted drastically forcing farmers to sell at throwaway prices.

Dr Gitonga who has a large miraa farm at Kunati in Tigania East, Meru, says they have no market for the crop, yet the government pledged to market it.

Speaking at his farm Gitonga said while a kilo of his miraa was fetching him Sh1, 500 a year ago the value had fallen to a low of Sh200 currently.

“There is no market for miraa. A lot of it is going to waste because there is nowhere to take it,” Gitonga said.

Miraa Growers and Traders Cooperative Union Chairman Moses Lichoro and Secretary General Mathew Gitonga attributed the tribulations facing them to a cartel that has locked the vast majority out of Somalia, the last remaining major destination of the crop.

Lichoro and Gitonga said the cartel working in cahoots with Government officials had imposed a USD 4 per kilo of miraa for export, which was out of reach for many.

The two officials said they had hope when President William Ruto vowed to crush the cartel fleecing them but expressed worry the group continued to cause financial pain to farmers.

They said President had done well to ensure the Somalia market was re-opened but appealed for the cartel to be dismantled from the export business. 

“Miraa farmers have suffered because there is no market. The cartel at our airport (JKIA) has prevented us from selling our miraa to Somalia. President Ruto vowed to finish the cartel and while the cartel went into hiding for a period, they are back,” Lichoro said.

He said farmers were not getting the right prices for the crop because of existence of the cartel, forcing them to sell at low prices.

Gitonga said they were had no options but to sellat low prices to members of the cartel who then transport it to Somalia.

“If the cartel is moved our farmers would sell at the right prices and earn from their sweat. President Ruto said he will fight defeat the cartel the moment he put down the Bible (at his swearing in). We want to inform him that the cartel is back,” Gitonga said.

Nyambene Miraa Traders Association (Nyamita) Chairman Kimathi Munjuri said miraa export trade had been hijacked by the cartel composed of faceless individuals.

Munjuri said the delay by the Government in re-opening miraa routes to Somalia due to insecurity fears had made it impossible to transport large consignments there.

"The fact that large quantities of Ethiopian miraa is reaching Somalia is limiting the maximum price Kenyan miraa export can fetch there," he said. 

He said the many taxes imposed on Kenyan miraa exports by air was favouring Ethiopian miraa, hence their cry for re-opening of the border points in Lamu, Mandera and others.

“The freight and airport charges, the duty charged in Somalia, the road transport from Meru to Nairobi and the commission payable at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport are all fixed and attempts to even discuss this with the government have been rebuffed with the dismissive “pay or do not export” response,” Munjuri said.

He said unless the cartel at the airport was driven out farmers will continue to suffer.

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