Pubdate: Thu, 12 May 2016
Source: Star, the (Kenya)
Copyright: 2016 the Star
Author: Agatha Ngotho


The Sh1 Billion Allocation to Boost Miraa Farmers in Kenya Is Godsend 
but Critics Have Their Concerns

The recent move to allocate Sh1billion to boost miraa farmers in 
Kenya is a blessing to the farmers but market for the commodity still 
remains a big challenge.

Until recently, miraa had been deemed a rejected crop following the 
controversies after the international ban in the European market in 2014.

The situation changed two weeks ago when President Uhuru Kenyatta 
signed into law, a bill categorising miraa as a cash crop.

The mediated version of the Miscellaneous Amendment Bill No.2 of the 
Crops Act, obligates the national government to establish mechanisms 
for promotion, production, distribution and marketing of miraa as a 
cash crop. The bill also provides for the protection of the crop 
under the ministry of agriculture.

This means that miraa has joined the rank of cash crops in Kenya 
which include tea, coffee, sugarcane, pyrethrum and cotton.

Agriculture is said to be the pillar of Kenya's economy with cash 
crop farming taking a lead. The government has thus been investing a 
lot of money to boost farming in areas where many of these cash crops 
are grown.

Agriculture Willy Bett said part of the funds will be used to secure 
markets and assist miraa farmers diversify to include other cash 
crops in order to reduce over-reliance of the crop.

Dr Eliud Kireger, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research 
Organisation director-general said if Meru county can facilitate them 
with land, they will start a research centre in the miraa growing area.

"We already have some data on miraa from the biochemistry work done 
at our Coffee Research Institute," Kireger said.


He said there are different miraa varieties, with the red variety 
grown in Meru, best used for export. There is another green variety 
that is consumed locally and there is also the wild variety that has 
not been commercialised.

"We have varieties like the Kilantune (tune is the Kimeru name for 
red). It has a deceptive pleasing purple appearance and tastes like 
cabbage. Miraa Miiru (iru is the Kimeru name for black) is regarded 
as perfectly balanced in taste and effect. Kiandasi or Muguka is 
described as too potent rendering sleepness nights for the chewer. 
There are also wild miraa trees found in Imenti, Nyambene, Nandi, 
Kericho and Mount Elgon forests," the director added.

Miraa trees are harvested regularly with the harvest known as Mainga 
in Kimeru. Timing of the harvest depends on the variety to be picked 
and the amount of recent rainfall.

Miraa is grown in high temperatures of between 10-30 degrees celsius 
and does well in an environment with well-distributed rainfall and 
can also be grown through irrigation.

Besides the European market, miraa is also exported to Somalia, 
Yemen, Dubai and South Africa.

The crop plays a huge role in the lives of farmers and residents of 
Meru county. Apart from being a source of income for many, it is also 
used as offering in the churches, signifying the importance of miraa 
to the community.

Igembe North member of parliament Joseph M'eruaki M'uthari, said that 
since time immemorial, miraa has not been recognised as a crop.

"This means it could not attract funding or any support from the 
government unlike other cash crops including tea or coffee. The miraa 
sub sector could also not benefit from research in terms of 
establishing varieties or market support. Recognition of miraa as a 
cash crop will thus bring more opportunities to the miraa growers," he said.

M'eruaki, also a member of the adhoc committee on miraa, said with 
this recognition, the government can now establish a board or an 
authority on miraa to support the development of the commodity.


In regards to market support, the MP added that some members of the 
committee are in talks with the British High Commission to try and 
push for the reopening of the miraa market in Europe.

"We are also pushing for miraa export to be included in the proposed 
Defence Cooperation Agreement between the Kenyan and British 
governments. Besides the EU market, we will also try to explore other 
markets even within Africa. This will open a window of opportunities 
in the packaging, processing and value addition of the commodity and 
help improve the welfare of the people," he said.

Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority director-general Alfred 
Busolo said the key to ensuring the lifting of the European market 
ban, is by conducting research to prove that miraa is not a drug.

"Part of the funds should be used in proving that miraa should not be 
classified as a class C drug, which categorises it as an anabolic 
steroid. We need experts to carry out high level research to debunk 
this theory," said Busolo.


The move has however elicited criticism with some leaders expressing 
concern that the government should also boost agriculture in other 
regions of the country.

Mandera Senator Billow Kerrow, said the lives of thousands of people 
have been destroyed by miraa in addition to destroying the health of 
individuals and breaking families, yet the government has ignored all that.

"If there is any region that needs to be give money, it is the people 
in North Eastern and Coast province to rehabilitate the persons 
affected by the drug.

It's unfortunate that the government hasn't looked at that aspect but 
has instead decided to focus on thw interests of the farmers. This 
government is for all Kenyans and must therefore look at the interest 
of all people," he said.

Former deputy speaker Farah Maalim said the livestock industry which 
is the economic mainstay of the people of North Eastern and a high 
contributor to the country's GDP, is ignored.

"These are the people mainly affected by the miraa menace and 
allocating Sh1 billion to miraa is selective and a continuation of 
the half a century old marginalisation," he said.

"Does anyone think kumikumi (illicit brew) can be regulated? 
Likewise, miraa cannot be regulated. Its toll on those who consume 
it, is heavy and unbearable. Miraa is the kumikumi or illicit brew of 
Somalis worldwide. It's a drug in the same class with weed (cannabis 
sativa) and must be banned globally and regionally."

The ban on miraa by the entire developed world, Maalim said, is 
informed by extensive scientific research. "Tanzania banned miraa way 
back. It is illogical for Kenya to categorise it as cash crop," he added.

Rajesh Hirani, popularly known as the miraa green gold ambassador , 
applauded the recognition of miraa as a cash crop adding that the 
Meru community had incurred huge losses since the ban.

"History has been made and the people of Meru have been released from 
historic oppression and economic sabotage by unending appeals and 
lost battles in salvaging the precious green gold of Meru," he said.

Hirani said they are creating awareness that miraa or khat is not a 
drug, but a mild stimulant like tea and coffee, and that as the 
ambassador, he is working to change the perception of the crop to the 
society. He acknowledged that market is a problem and the government 
should intervene to see if the ban can be lifted.

"There is hope for this sector but I urge the president and his 
deputy to reach out to Britain and agree on a mutual settlement."



One thing that may surprise many Kenyans travelling to Tanzania, is 
that miraa is banned there.

The Tanzanian police are known to notoriously extort Kenyans found 
with some muguka or miraa on their bus trip in the country, often 
with threats of jail.

Do our neighbours probably know something about miraa that we don't?

Tanzania introduced a soft ban on khat in 1977, yet serious studies 
that associate it with adverse health effects, have only begun to trickle in.

Although banned in the US, Canada and some parts of Europe, miraa is 
still not under any international controls.

The earliest known international study on the stimulant was carried 
out in 1933 by the Advisory Committee on the Traffic in Opium and 
Other Dangerous Drugs of the League of Nations.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) simply lists khat as a drug that 
creates "dependence" in people, meaning it produces a continuing 
desire to keep using it. But is the use of miraa harmful? Users 
confess that it induces euphoria and elation with feelings of 
increased alertness and arousal. This is followed by excitement, 
loquacity and a stage of vivid discussions that can go on all night.

This is where miraa problems probably begin.

"Khat chewing induced anorexia and insomnia (delayed bedtime) 
resulting in a late wake-up next morning and low work performance the 
next day," says a 2006 assessment of khat, presented to the WHO's 
Expert Committee on Drug Dependence.

The report noted that many users also confessed that khat chewing 
improves their sexual desire and excitement.

The Catha edulis shrub is consumed by an estimated 10 to 20 million 
people worldwide, and is most popular across East Africa and the 
southern Arabian Peninsula.

One of the most cited studies was carried out in the Middle East, 
where miraa is religiously chewed.

The study, 'Acute Coronary Syndrome and Khat Herbal Amphetamine Use', 
was published in the Circulation journal in 2011.

The study claimed that chewing the green leaves (muguka, in this 
case) for its amphetamine-like effect, appears to raise the risk for 
both stroke and death among heart patients.

"It has chemical constituents that are similar to harmful drugs, such 
as cocaine and amphetamine, and may cause a heart attack as well as 
increase the risk of death and stroke from a heart attack," said 
study co-author Dr Jassim Al Suwaidi, senior consultant cardiologist 
at Hamad General Hospital in Doha, Qatar.

The principal active ingredients in khat are cathine and cathinone. 
According to the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, these chemicals 
are similar in structure to amphetamine (a nerve and brain stimulant) 
and have similar stimulant effects.

Miraa is illegal in US largely because it contains cathinone, a 
Schedule I narcotic under US Federal Law.

The NIDA notes that the euphoria, elation, alertness and arousal from 
chewing khat typically lasts anywhere from 1.5 to three hours, but 
can endure for a full day. Blood pressure and heart rates may rise 
during that time, followed by short-term onset of depression, 
irritability and sleep problems.

The study notes that long-term chewing of khat can lead to tooth 
decay and gastrointestinal problems, in addition to cardiovascular 
issues such as coronary artery spasm.

Tooth decay is probably the best know effect of miraa chewing in 
Kenya, as most chewers can hardly afford a pleasant smile.

The Circulation study however, focused on individuals with a history 
of heart disease. All were being treated for acute coronary syndrome 
in one of the 65 hospitals across Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, 
Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Of these participants, about 20 per cent were deemed to be regular 
khat chewers. They were more likely to be older and male (14 per cent 
were women), but less likely to have heart health risk factors than 
non-khat chewers.

While still being treated in hospital, khat heart patients had about 
double the death rate due to cardiovascular illness, compared to 
non-khat heart patients (7.5 per cent death rate versus 3.8 per cent).

One month out, the risk spread was even greater: a 15.5 per cent 
death rate among khat users versus 6.4 per cent among non-users. And 
at one year, the death rate was nearly 19 per cent among khat users, 
compared with just under 11 per cent among non-users.

Overall, the researchers said that khat-using heart patients were 
more likely to experience arrhythmia, heart failure, heart attack or 
a stroke than non-khat-using heart patients, in addition to facing a 
higher risk for death, regardless of gender.

Dr Kirk Garratt, clinical director of interventional cardiovascular 
research at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, commented on the study.

"We know very well that when you have cardiovascular disease, any 
exposure to any meaningful stimulant would be expected to increase 
heart risk, by changing the vascular dynamic of the blood vessels 
that control the blood flow through the brain and heart," he said. 
"Cocaine, for example, can have a negative impact on people both with 
and without heart disease," Garratt added. "And those with heart 
disease face an especially elevated risk. So these findings are not 
really surprising."

Closer home, the government last year commissioned some lecturers 
from Moi University to study Miraa chewing. The results were released 
in Nakuru last November during a forum organised by the Consortium 
for National Health Research.

The study, which largely focused on the adverse health effects, said 
regular chewing can lead to heart attack and lower the mortality of sperm.

"The consumption of the drug also results in a rise in blood pressure 
but it does not cause cancer as has been reported in some quarters," 
said the lead scientist Ochiba Lukanda. He said a similar study 
conducted in the Middle East, had proven that men who stopped chewing 
the plant performed well in bed.

Moi University lecturer psychologist Lukoye Atwoli says that miraa 
use causes some mental disorders like mood swings and depression.

- - John Muchangi
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom