Farmers angry at Britain's ban on miraa
08 July 2013, 17:49
Nairobi - Farmers growing miraa are angry, as Britain has branded the crop a drug and banned it, and in retaliation have demanded the British army training bases and British-owned farms be shut down.
Miraa, a multi-million dollar export business -- is the leaves and shoots of the shrub Catha edulis, which are chewed to obtain a mild stimulant effect.
"We do not see why we should live side by side with our enemies ... with people who are conspiring to punish Kenyans," said Kimathi Munjuri, spokesman for the Nyambene Miraa Trade Association, one of the key growing regions for the bushy herb, in northeastern Kenya.
Last week, Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May classified miraa (known as khat in the United Kingfom) as a drug, effectively closing Kenya's last market in Europe, after the Netherlands banned the stimulant in January.
British interests in Kenya
Britain, the former colonial ruler, still sends troops to train in northern Kenya.
Large tracts of land are also owned or farmed by British nationals.
"The British have training bases in the middle of miraa-growing regions," Munjuri added. "They own land among us and now we will adopt stands to make them feel our importance."
Britain's ban was made despite findings from government experts that there was insufficient evidence miraa is harmful.
Khat farmers say they export up to 60 tonnes of miraa to London each week.
The trade is estimated to be worth up to $24 million a year.
"A ban will cripple the economy of the area," said Florence Kajuju, a lawmaker for the miraa-growing constituency of Tigania East, adding that the ban would impact thousands of families.
There has been no official Kenyan reaction.
Although miraa is grown across the Horn of Africa region as well as in Yemen largely for domestic and regional use, much of Kenya's crop is cultivated for export, with the main growing area around the Meru region.
Miraa bushes can take up to four years to mature and large-scale farms have been running for decades.
While grown in fertile highlands where other crops such as maize and potatoes also do well, miraa is preferred for its relatively high profit margins.