In September 2015, national carrier Kenya Airways lost Sh500 million when the United Kingdom banned miraa imports.
The airline reported the loss for the year ending March 2015, just a year after the UK joined other EU nations in banning the twig “on health grounds”.
Before the ban, Kenya Airways ferried approximately 50 tonnes of miraa every week into the UK.
The shipment accounted for 10 per cent of its Sh860 million total cargo revenue.
This underlines the significance of miraa in the firm’s business.
Such is the importance of the mild stimulant that it was Meru County’s most valuable export, followed by horticulture.
After the ban, the Nyambene region, the main grower of the crop, experienced a rapid economic decline.
BAN AFFECTS EDUCATION
In August 2015, a crop diversification study commissioned by the Act Change Transformation group, which is supported by the British High Commission, said the UK ban had also affected education in Nyambene.
Although the study did not directly link the trend to the ban on miraa exports, it said residents — most of whom depended on miraa farming — had little money.
Last week, the lucrative industry was dealt another huge blow when Somalia banned imports of the stimulant without any warning or explanation, leaving farmers and traders counting losses.
Somalia did not say when it would lift the ban.
And in a strange twist of events, Somalia ambassador to Kenya Gamal Hassan said Meru Governor Peter Munya was to blame for the ban.
He said Mr Munya’s July visit to Somaliland had interfered with his country’s territorial integrity.
Somaliland is a breakaway region not recognised by Somalia or the international community.
Government spokesman Eric Kiraithe on Friday dismissed Somalia’s stand.
He said foreign affairs matters were the preserve of the national government, adding that President Uhuru Kenyatta would engage his colleagues in the region on the issue.
Mr Munya now finds himself at the centre of the drawn-out conflict between Somalia and Somaliland.
The governor, who addressed a rally at the Maili Tatu grounds last week, said he feared for his life, adding that he read political malice in the saga.
He instead put the national government on the spot, saying despite opening a consulate in Hargeisa, which was later closed, there had been no effort to lobby against the ban.
“It is the government’s responsibility to lobby for the lifting of the ban in the UK, Somalia, Canada and the Netherlands.
“I should not be blamed for what happened. The opposite is the truth,” the county boss said.
MUNYA BLAMES RIVALS
The governor accused his rivals of using miraa politics to discredit him and his career.
“They are planning to come here after the Jubilee merger in Nairobi. They should be ready to answer questions about the ban,” he said of a planned visit by Deputy President William Ruto to Maua Town on Saturday.
Mr Munya, who stressed that he wants to vie for the presidency in 2022, said he was not worried about “the hurdles being placed on my path”.
“On Madaraka Day last year, I talked about the crisis that would befall the people of Nyambene after rumours did [the] rounds that Somalia wanted to close the miraa market.
“It is out of this that I took the decision to visit Somaliland,” he said.
“Which army does Munya have to interfere with another country’s territorial integrity? That is propaganda. I will continue to agitate [for] the rights of miraa farmers. Let the government deal with that matter and if it doesn’t, it should not come here looking for votes,” he added.
Farmers and traders now complain that the political squabbles are destroying livelihoods.
“Our only worry is where the next meal will come from,” said Silas Kaburu, a farmer from Igembe Central Sub-County.
“Many families have been left destitute since we depend on the crop.”
James Mutia, another farmer, said the glut of miraa in the local market had led to a big drop in prices.
The crop is also a major source of employment and the ban could raise joblessness and insecurity.
Those affected include harvesters, packagers, drivers and women who sell the banana leaves used to wrap the produce.
“It is a whole chain of people who will be affected. Every aspect of life from politics, culture and the economy depends on miraa,” Mr Mutia said.
He pleaded with the national government to concentrate on finding markets — in and out of the country — for the crop.