High hopes, doubts mark Kenya's miraa trade plans with Somalia

Meru miraa farmer

A miraa farmer inspects his crop in Meru. Kenyan miraa farmers and traders are waiting with a mix of optimism and scepticism for Tuesday, July 5, when exports to Somalia are expected to resume.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Mr Moses Lichoro, a large-scale miraa farmer, expectantly inspects his trees from which he expects to earn a tidy sum of money as the day for the planned reopening of the Somalia market nears.

He is among Kenyan miraa farmers and traders who are waiting with a mix of optimism and scepticism for Tuesday, July 5, when exports to Somalia are expected to resume. His doubts are largely due to previous failed attempts by the government to regain the Somalia market.

Last month, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya assured miraa farmers that Kenya and Somalia would sign a trade agreement on July 5, marking the end of two years of a miraa trade embargo.

CS Munya said Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was expected in Kenya on Tuesday and the two countries would sign a bilateral air service agreement that would unlock the miraa trade between the two countries.

Somalia media on Sunday reported that President Mohamud had left the country for a two-day state visit to Turkey.

A statement posted on the Twitter account of the Turkish Embassy in Mogadishu states that President Mohamud will be in Turkey until July 5 for bilateral talks.

Good old days

Mr Lichoro, who is also the chairman of the Miraa Growers and Traders Cooperative Union, reminisces about the good old days when he would make millions of shillings in khat (miraa) sales every month before Somalia shut its trade doors on Kenya in March 2020.

He is among hundreds of farmers who lost their income after the ban. Many are yet to recover from the loss of the market, while some have found a way through the crisis by growing other crops.

“We are hopeful but we do not want to be over-excited about the promise that Somalia will open the market on Tuesday. We have been deceived several times before. We will only believe it when President Uhuru Kenyatta makes the official statement,” Mr Lichoro said.

Mr Kimathi Munjuri, the chairman of Nyambene Miraa Trade Association (Nyamita), said the scepticism around the anticipated Tuesday agreement arose because stakeholders were not involved in the process.

Bilateral talks ‘goof’

He accused the Kenyan government of ‘goofing’ in its handling of Somalia, making bilateral talks difficult.

“We pray that the market is reopened but we are aware that this will depend on the magnanimity of Somalia. We are sceptical because Kenya has already started getting it wrong with the new Somali administration,” Mr Munjuri said.

He said the government had not only failed on foreign markets but also in handling miraa issues locally.

“Interior CS Fred Matiang’i had last year promised to set up an inter-ministerial committee on miraa to address crosscutting issues but nothing has been done to date,” Mr Munjuri said.

“This is why we remain in the dark on various issues affecting the sector. We have several potential miraa markets which are not being actualised.”

Ethiopia khat

He said the Somalia-Kenya talks on miraa are complicated due to the presence of Ethiopia, whose khat traders have taken over Mogadishu.

“Will Ethiopia sit and watch as Kenya seeks to dislodge it from the market? This is why we have been advising Kenyan officials to approach this matter with a lot of seriousness,” he said.

“All in all, our hope is that the Somali president will be accompanied by at least five aircraft loaded with miraa as he leaves Kenya.”

‘Balance of trade’ deal

Ethiopia took over the Mogadishu khat market in October 2020 after entering a ‘balance of trade’ deal with Somalia.

Data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC) shows that Ethiopia exported fresh produce worth more than Sh27 billion in 2020.

Somalia finance ministry records indicate that the country earned more than Sh600 million in khat taxes in 2020 and doubled the earnings to about Sh1.26 billion in 2021.

But OEC data indicates that the value of Kenya’s khat exports to Somalia fell from $13 million (Sh1.3 billion) in 2019 to $1.27 million (Sh139 million) in 2020.