The listing of miraa among top drugs of abuse by the National Authority for the Campaign against Drug Abuse (Nacada) has renewed calls for a multi-agency engagement to determine the fate of the crop.
A survey released by Nacada last week listed alcohol, tobacco and miraa among the top drugs and substances of abuse among 15-65-year-olds, with miraa or muguka users being more than 960,000.
Nacada CEO Victor Okioma said miraa is a drug that “is responsible for many substance use disorders”.
“There are people who are in rehabilitation centres for use of miraa. However, the most problematic khat is the type known as muguka. Our studies have shown that it Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act as harmful substances,” Mr Okioma said.
He said as members of the UN, they have committed to customise the law to prohibit use of miraa.
“The position of Nacada is that miraa is harmful and muguka is even more harmful. This is why we are discouraging expansion of markets and are against attempts to process it into juices and wine. Unless they have found a way of removing the harmful constituents, we will oppose it,” the Nacada boss said.
Farmers and other miraa stakeholders are up in arms over the contradictory government positions on the crop, arguing that the report has watered down efforts to restore the status of miraa.
Nacada’s position comes a few months after Parliament passed the Miraa Regulations 2023 that are aimed at guiding the production, processing and marketing of the produce.
“Just last month, the President was in Igembe North and one of his commitments was that he would help in the expansion of the miraa markets. We are confused about the contradicting positions,” Mr Josphat Mugambi, a farmer and MCA, said.
Igembe Central MP Dan Kiili said he was working on a Bill to protect miraa from constant attacks.
“Nacada is a government agency and cannot hold a different position from other government bodies,” former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya said.
Nyambene Miraa Farmers Union chairperson Moses Lichoro called for a forum to resolve the dispute over the crop.
According to Nyambene Miraa Trade Association (Nyamita) spokesperson Kimathi Munjuri, the persistent negative listing of miraa by Nacada was eating into its markets.
He said a multiagency engagement on government position on miraa was long overdue.
“The first time Nacada listed miraa as a drug was in 2012 and this led to the loss of the UK market. Nacada has continued to arm the enemies of miraa with their narrative which cannot be substantiated,” Mr Munjuri said.
He said when Nyamita sued Nacada in 2015, the authority argued that its position on khat was based on the law.
“The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic substances act they rely on does not classify miraa in its natural form as a drug. What is classified is cathinone and cathine which are extracts of the crop. Studies have shown that these active ingredients cannot be harmful in their natural form,” he said.
Mr Munjuri said miraa is promoted by the government in its natural form due to its cultural role, just like in Ethiopia, Yemen and Israel.
He further argued that the value addition of miraa does not enhance the active ingredients, hence the products were safe for use.
“Nacada is relying on extracts of miraa to advance its negative campaign. We have not heard them talk about barley and sorghum, which are used to make alcohol. We have advised our MPs to review the law to end the listing of natural miraa by Nacada,” said the Nyamita chairman.
Kenya Export Promotion and Branding Agency (Keproba) CEO Floice Mukhabana said the agency was working hard to address challenges facing the miraa crop.
Keproba has been supporting miraa marketing efforts, with a visit to Djibouti being the latest of them.