Miraa farmers, traders and other stakeholders have urged the national government to agitate for lifting of the ban on miraa when UK Prime Minister Theresa May visits Kenya.
During a consultative meeting of miraa farmers in Meru town on Wednesday, farmers appealed for either lifting of the ban, the support of the UK government in pursuing crop diversification and alternative means of generating income, or both.
Theresa May jetted into the country on Thursday morning, accompanied by top business players, for bilateral talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
“We are appealing to President Uhuru Kenyatta to request the British Government to open our miraa market in UK and to support access to water and other development initiatives in Nyambene, because it is a dry region,” said former Igembe North MP Joseph M’Eruaki.
Eruaki, also a former director of Caritas, the Catholic Diocese’s development and humanitarian agency, said large populations in Nyambene (Tigania and Igembe) are in need of rescue, because they no longer earn well from miraa sales.
“We would like Britain to support the miraa value chain and research and development, so that farmers gain knowledge on its agronomy,” he said.
His sentiments were backed by Meru Assembly Majority Leader Victor Karithi who said in addition to reversing ban on miraa, the UK should support the development of conservation, tourism.
Maore Ngore, who grows the once lucrative kisa and asili varieties on his three acres of miraa, said the UK should allow miraa back into its market.
“Theresa May played a key role in its ban because she was the Home Secretary. But things have changed now because President Kenyatta’s administration recognizes it as a cash crop which contributes significantly to Kenya’s GDP. There is something called reciprocity and we want Britain to play fair,” said Mr Ngore, a former MCA of Ntunene Ward.
He said: “She is the PM now. She should appreciate the fact that miraa supports the economies of Meru, Embu and many other counties. Miraa supports thousands, if not millions of people. It is a very important item of trade that should be in the agenda.”
Nyambene Miraa Traders (Nyamita) chairman Kimathi Munjuri said the ban which took effect in 2014 after UK classified miraa as a drug, had caused economic suffering from which farmers have not recovered.
Mr Munjuri said those engaged in the miraa, from farmers to exporters, were able to sustain themselves from the Sh3 billion annual income from sales of miraa in UK but had suffered economically after the ban.
Munjuri said the Kenyan government must take advantage of May’s visit to press for the lifting of the ban.
“UK government promised to embark on programmes to mitigate the miraa ban to prevent miraa community from suffering, but we have not received any help over four years later,” he said.
“The only action we have heard about this is when previous UK High Commissioner Dr Christian Turner launching a study to establish what can be done. The results of this have not been made public, neither has there been any projects by UK in this line in the miraa farming region of Meru,” Munjuri added.
They said factors that influenced the ban, including claims miraa is a drug, had been proved unfounded.
With 50 tonnes of miraa exported in a single week before the ban, it was one of the biggest 'fresh produce' export from Kenya
In a week there were four flights carrying miraa from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Heathrow Airport
Each week miraa earned Sh67 million from the UK exports
Kenya Airways which charged for the consignments also lost income from the ban, as did the UK who had a Value Added Tax on the commodity
Most of the miraa which was being taken to UK is now being consumed locally, and earns farmers, transporters and others, significantly less money.