Dam raises earnings for khat farmers

Miraa, or khat, has become a popular export in the horticulture family.  Photo /file
Miraa, or khat, has become a popular export in the horticulture family. Photo /file 

Adverse weather conditions have forced miraa farmers in Nyeri to start irrigating their bushes to increase their daily harvests.

The farmers say that due to frost and drought, they can barely harvest five kilogrammes from their bushes per day. The decline in productivity has pushed up the price per kilo of the stimulant from Sh150 to Sh1,200.

For this reason, John Mambo, who has 400 bushes of khat planted in 1993 says he and other farmers from the semi-arid Njegu village in Kieni West have been counting huge losses as they wait for the rains.

Even if the rains fail, the farmers have now opted to irrigate their bushes, thanks to a community dam. Now, they are optimistic their daily harvests will improve.
The group of farmers in Njegu, which sits at the foot of the Aberdare forest turned to miraa farming after they uprooted their coffee bushes due to poor returns some years back. However, some of them retained a few coffee bushes and inter-cropped with miraa.

Mr Mambo who was the first farmer to start miraa farming in the village said he bought the ‘Miwe’ species seedlings from Maua, Meru where he used to live before he bought a farm in Kieni.

“Miraa requires a lot of water to give a good harvest everyday and since our area is within the semi-arid part of Kieni, we are compelled to irrigate our bushes throughout the day to keep the soils wet during the dry spell,” he said.

Before Eunice Wairimu – also a miraa farmer – started irrigating her trees, she used to harvest leaves worth Sh3,000 to Sh4,000 per week but for the last one month she has been irrigating, she has been able to almost double her weekly earnings.ave ready market for our produce, but we are unable to satisfy the demand, we hope more farmers in our area will start practising miraa farming which has proved viable here,” she said
Although the process of irrigating the miraa crops is tiresome since the bushes are tall, the farmers have opted using overhead irrigation through use of sprinklers.

Mr Mambo says although a lot of water is wasted through the use of this method, it helps in cooling the leaves thus making them tender and easy to chew for users.

“We are compelled to do this otherwise our competitors from Embu and Meru will carry the day when we meet in the market since theirs will be tender than ours as their region is wetter than ours,” said Mr Mambo.

Apart from Nyeri Town, the farmers enjoy great market from Mweiga, Karatina, Endarasha, Chaka and other neighbouring towns.

In Meru, farmers have been forced to keep vigil their crop at night with others hiring day and night guards due to increased cases of theft.

According to Stephen Karugi, scarcity of the commodity and better prices in the market has lured day and night thieves into miraa farms and this has forced farmers to hire guards or even at times keep watch of their crops themselves.

“There has been a trend of theft of miraa in shambas during the dry spell as the commodity fetches more money than during the rainy and wet seasons. Surprisingly, we too are now unable to satisfy the expanding market for the stimulant,” says Mr Karugi.