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Frosty Kenya-Somalia relations leave miraa business in jeopardy

NATIONAL
By Phares Mutembei | May 11th 2021

From left: Nyambene Miraa Farmers and Traders (Nyamita) Coordinator Miriti Ngozi, Chairman Kimathi Munjuri and Organising Secretary Dan Kiili addressing the press in Meru town. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

Miraa (Khat) traders have suffered major losses after a speculative attempt to airlift the stimulant to Somalia backfired on Sunday evening.

The traders were optimistic that the resumption of diplomatic relations between Somalia and Kenya would offer them much-needed relief.

Mistakenly believing the strained relations between the two countries were on the mend after Somalia announced diplomatic relations had resumed, farmers were asked to deliver Sh5 million worth of the produce that was rushed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport where a supposed cargo plane was waiting.

Nyambene Miraa Farmers and Traders Association (Nyamita) chairman Kimathi Munjuri said 20 tonnes of the produce went to waste.

“Though we blame brokers for rushing the cargo to the airport before we were consulted, our farmers and transporters suffered major losses,” Munjuri said.

The association’s coordinator Miriti Ngozi and organising secretary Dan Kiili questioned the essence of restoring diplomatic relations if the two countries are not allowing normal, legal trade to resume.

According to a Kenya Civil Aviation Authority report issued on May 11, all flights between Kenya and Somalia are suspended except Medevac flights and United Nations flights on a humanitarian mission.

It is a situation that has put about five million people along the miraa value chain, including farmers, farmhands, harvesters, packers, transporters and traders on the receiving end.

Munjuri said they had hoped for resumption of trade with Somalia, the biggest miraa market after the UK, which was worth Sh6 billion annually before it banned khat.

“For over a year miraa farmers and traders have suffered massive losses because Somalia has always been the biggest market. At the moment we are getting rains in miraa zones and markets are flooded with the produce. We were hoping matters were shaping up for the better and now this,” he said.

Mr Kiili from Igembe Central, which together with Igembe North are the two biggest miraa zones, said the miraa-dependent community was weighed down by continued ban of the crop.

“We are requesting the national government to intervene as a matter of urgency because households are suffering. The community is financially devastated from the ban of the crop in Somalia and reduced trade because of prevailing circumstances,” he said.

Kiili said with 95 per cent of Igembe people sustained by income from the crop, their purchasing power had been hard hit and the government needed to prioritise the search for more markets.

“The entire Meru County is affected when the miraa industry is on its knees. We use income from miraa to buy food from Tharaka and other parts,” he said.

Ngozi asked the Agriculture, Foreign Affairs and Trade ministries to move with speed and ensure farmers have more markets for the popular stimulant.

“We expected our miraa to be allowed into Somalia, but shock on us. We have suffered for a long time and it is important that the relevant agencies work to unlock the stalemate,” he said.

The leaders said Djibouti, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo were potential markets for miraa that needed to be explored.

“As we urge the government to work to re-open the lost markets, we also want new ones. But the government should involve miraa farmers and those with knowledge about it, not strangers to the crop,” Munjuri said.

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