End confusion on miraa

The listing of miraa among the most abused drugs in the country could spell doom for a cash crop that is the mainstay of the Mountain region.

It’s an economic lifeline for Meru, Isiolo and Tharaka Nithi counties, a source of livelihood for farmers, labourers and transporters.

A survey by the National Authority for Campaign against Drug Abuse (Nacada) lists miraa alongside alcohol and tobacco among the top drugs and substances that many Kenyans abuse and singled it out as being “responsible for many substance use disorders”. It, thus, discourages its processing into juices or wine unless the harmful constituents are removed.

This is bad news for miraa farmers, whose fortunes nosedived in recent years due to bans in Europe and restrictions by their biggest export market, Somalia.

Indeed, the rain started beating farmers, transporters and the economy when Britain outlawed miraa imports. Other European countries, including the Netherlands, followed suit. When Nacada first listed miraa as a drug in 2012, it led to the loss of the crop’s major UK market.

The resources that have gone into growing and marketing the crop locally and internationally could soon come to nothing. This is why stakeholders are up in arms over the contradictory government positions on the crop.

Only a few months ago, Parliament passed the Miraa Regulations 2023 to guide the crop’s production and processing and marketing of the produce. Farmers were elated when President William Ruto promised in Igembe North to help in expanding the market.

The Nacada position will only heighten the contradictions. The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act does not classify miraa in its natural form as a drug, though some of its extracts are listed thus. Hence the need for firm classification.

This crop once accounted for 54 per cent of the country’s fresh produce exports. There is a need for multi-agency talks to clear the confusion over miraa and boost its growth and marketing as a major source of national revenue.