At 85, former Nyambene North MP Joseph Mutuuria is more physically fit than many younger men.
He partly attributes his good health to a daily dose of miraa, which he chews with friends in his free time.
About 90 per cent of farms in Igembe North, Meru County, are under miraa.
Mr Mutuuria says he used to make about Sh500,000 a month from his farm. But that was before Somalia banned its export. Since then, the income dropped to about Sh50,000. But things are looking up.
“I’m sure we will recover after Somalia reopened its market.”
The former legislator spends most of his time on his 11-acre miraa farm in Laare, a routine he has followed for more than five decades.
He has withstood the turbulence that the farmers have faced over the years. Unlike other cash crops like coffee and tea, which got funding from the Government, miraa was for a long time categorised a drug and its growers received no State assistance.
That was before the current Igembe North MP Maore Maoka lobbied for the removal of the crop from the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act.
Miraa was then recognised as a legal crop in 2016, and President Uhuru Kenyatta allocated the sector Sh1 billion to help farmers.
As Mr Mutuuria recounts, the farmers have had a hard time following its ban by the UK in 2014 and Somalia in March, 2020, the two biggest markets.
He says President Kenyatta rescued the farmers by recognising the crop and lobbying for the reopening of the lucrative market.
The new Somalia President Sheikh Hassan Mohamud lifted the export ban imposed by his predecessor Mohammed Farmajo.
Mr Mutuuria, who once gave the President a miraa seedling to plant at his Ichaweri home in Gatundu, is upbeat that the farmers can now look forward to better days.
“Miraa is a very important crop for Nyambene. It sustains our local economy. President Uhuru appointed me as a miraa taskforce member, which recommended research to identify pests affecting the crop. Our President gave a directive for the research, but it has not been done,” he says, adding that farmers are still waiting.
The former MP wants farmers to access loans through their saccos so that they can repossess their farms from unscrupulous traders.
“Many farmers leased out their farms because they needed money to sustain families and educate their children. They need loans to redeem these farms because they are exploited.”