NEWS: Uhuru drawn into row on miraa trade, use

A campaign by leaders in Embu and Meru counties to have miraa classified as a cash crop and not a drug is headed to State House.
 PHOTO | FILE Vans transporting miraa from Meru to Nairobi.
Meru Senator Kiraitu Murungi and Kithure Kindiki (Tharaka Nithi) are scheduled to meet President Uhuru Kenyatta on the matter next week.

An anti-miraa campaign waged by the National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) has rattled the sub-sector which has recorded a 20 per cent drop in deliveries in Nairobi in the past one week.

Nacada officials have been making impromtu visits at drop-off points in Eastleigh estate, Nairobi warning traders that they risk arrest for “selling drugs”.

Small-scale traders in the city buy 100 tonnes every day from Nyambene alone, a figure that has declined in the past week, according to officials of the Meru and Embu Welfare Association (Membu).
Membu secretary general Mr Mungathia M’Ncuu said many parts of the wider Mt Kenya East region face economic disaster if the fall in sales continues.

“The trend will affect school fees payment next term and affect livelihoods. Meru county’s economy will be crippled,” he said.

The push by Nacada is the latest in a long line of problems for the stimulant which is popular with both rural and urban youth.

Miraa farmers’ woes deepened in January after the twigs were banned in the Netherlands. However, it is the threat of arrest of local sellers and consumers that has rattled the region.

During his presidential campaign Mr Kenyatta condemned the ban on miraa saying the decision was draconian, excessive and arbitrary. Addressing a rally in Meru on January 14, the Jubliee candidate promised to protect the crop and the Meru economy when he became president.

But Meru residents fear Mr Kenyatta may renege.
Nyambene Miraa Traders Association chairman Edward Mutuura says a pick-up load of miraa earns the community close to Sh2.5 million daily.

“Evidently, proceeds from miraa trade have been used to build schools, rental houses and improved infrastructure in Meru,” he said, adding that the failure to recognise miraa as a cash crop had reduced farmer’s income.

The heat generated by the new anti-miraa campaign has landed in both the Senate and the National Assembly. On Tuesday, Mr Murungi sought a statement on what the government is doing to protect and promote miraa farming.

Tigania East MP Mpuru Aburi and fellow MPs from the region have crafted a petition to the National Assembly that seeks to recognise miraa as a cash crop. He owns 11 acres of the crop.
On Thursday, Mr Aburi and Igembe Central MP Kubai Kiringo visited Nairobi’s Eastleigh miraa markets and addressed traders on the motion.
“Nacada officials must stop harassing traders. We shall oppose criminalisation of miraa business,” Mr Aburi said.

Both men said the Meru County strategy to transport their produce through the Lamu Port and Lamu Southern Sudan, Ethiopia Transport Corridor will fail if the ban is imposed.

The motion by Mr Aburi seeks to have the government conduct appropriate research on the effects on health, if any, on miraa consumption.