An initiative to reduce the duty imposed on miraa from Kenya by Somaliland is being well received by potential voters in the Nyambene region of Meru County, a good number who draw their income from the sale of that crop.
Last week, Meru Governor Peter Munya provided farmers from the region with details about his negotiations with leaders of Somaliland to have the customs duty reduced. The governor noted that currently Kenyan exporters are charged more than what it costs to produce miraa.
The sale of miraa is an emotive subject in Nyambene, and that is why its ban by the UK government was greeted with such anger in this region.
Therefore Munya’s foray into Somaliland is seen in the same light with an announcement by CORD leader Raila Odinga that he had opened diplomatic negotiations with Tanzania’s President John Magufuli to lift the total ban on khat exports. After jetting back from Hargeisa, the capital of the Somaliland, Munya said he had met the country’s leadership and discussed how to open up the miraa market estimated to be worth $400 million (Sh4 billion), with 99 per cent of the supplies coming from Ethiopia.
Some of the miraa farmers in Nyambene said efforts by Raila and Governor Munya must be bounced off against the inaction exhibited by the Jubilee administration in addressing the lack of market access.
“The President has been to France, Turkey and other European countries and we have not heard him put a case for miraa exports,” said Francis Gichunge, a miraa farmer.
The United Republican Party (URP) Meru chairman James Mithika, who is also a miraa farmer in Igembe Central, also supported the intervention by leaders such as Munya.
“Anybody of whichever colour, creed and persuasion trying to resolve the miraa issue is welcome,” said Mr Mithika.
Recently, Munya met with the Deputy President of Somaliland Abdurrahman Ishmael and his foreign and finance ministers in Somalia. “Their minister of finance agreed to constitute a technical committee to review duty imposed on Kenyan miraa. They want to be recognised by the Kenya Government, just as they are diplomatically recognised by Ethiopia,” said the governor. Early this year, President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed a taskforce to look into the problems facing mirra farmers and recommend how to revive the sector.
Among those who have raised issues with the membership is URP Meru chairman, Rev Gichunge and miraa ambassador Rajesh Hilani.
“It is clear the taskforce was not broadly constituted,” said Hilani. “Not all stakeholders were included in it.”