As the government dilly-dallies on a policy on miraa development, David Mwangi, 40, wishes that the confusion persists.
“As long as it persists I continue to laugh all my way to the bank as a happy muguka farmer,” he says.
Farming muguka, a type of miraa, in Kirinyaga County for the past 14 years, Mr Mwangi has seen his income improve rapidly.
Even though anti miraa crusaders have been agitating for the stimulant to be classified as an illicit drug — with many countries banning it — political pressure has seen the Kenyan government go easy on farming the crop.
“Out of Muguka farming I have bought 10 acres of land in both Kirinyaga and Nairobi counties. I cannot complain since the proceeds are enough to sustain me and my family,” he says.
Mr Mwangi’s love for miraa farming began with a visit to a friend in Embu County in 2003.
“I had just returned home after being laid off by an alcoholic drinks firm where I was a driver. I had Sh20,000 as my terminal dues and I had no idea what to do to earn money,” he says.
A standard eight graduate who could not pursue secondary education due to lack of school fees, Mr Mwangi says he was worried about a future without a job.
“The only work that I had bet on to help me raise my family was gone. I had no other training apart from driving. Here I was, jobless and a father of two sons. I was desperate for a solution to my joblessness,” he says.
He found that his friend had abandoned pig breeding for miraa farming. “I had seen the miraa chewing craze grow in urban centres and it did not cross my mind that tending the crop would be my fall back plan,” he says.
It came as a sweet surprise when his friend took him around his farm on which he grew 1,000 muguka plants.
“I was immediately interested when he told me that a kilo fectched Sh150 then. I was surprised to learn that he earned about Sh150,000 per week from the crop,” he says. By mid 2004 Mr Mwangi had flourishing muguka plants on an acre of land and was minting cash as the miraa chewing craze spread across the coutry.
“I have maintained farming to date and I can assure you that it is profitable. For the past three years the price of muguka has been between Sh300 and Sh700 per kilo,” Mr Mwangi says, adding that he is not remorseful that the stimulant might be harmful to users.
"I m not in charge of policy formulation in this country. The government is aware that I grow muguka and it knows that I'm in a cottage industry with market structures.
If it is not telling us to stop growing for the market, how can I run away from the fortune in this venture?" he poses.
Mr Mwangi says the beauty of muguka farming is that the plant is hardy and endures long spells of drought. “I have since laid an irrigation system on my land. I take my produce to the market twice a week, interestingly customers look for me right here on the farm,” he says.
Miraa production costs are very low “since I hardly use pesticides.”
He says the plants require compost manure and occasionally phosphate fertilisers to thrive.
Muguka has two market cycles; during the rainy and dry seasons. The market peaks during the dry season due to scarcity of the commodity.
The farmgate price per kilo hits a high of Sh1,000 during the season, he says. During the rainy season supply rises, pushing the price down to as low as Sh200 per kilo.
However, being a farmer in Mwea Sub County comes with benefits from irrigation channels developed by the National Irrigation Board.
The board channels water to rice plantations and extends the service to other farmers who are charged Sh1,000 per year.
Mr Mwangi has taken advantage of this service to produce muguka all year round, hence his output is not affected by the dry spell.
"In Kirinyaga County we have six months of the dry spell and six months of the rainy weather. In the dry spell I average 1,000 kilos per month, earning between Sh500,000 and Sh700,000 gross," he says.
During the rainy season his gross earnings fall to between Sh100,000 to Sh200,000 per month. He says muguka farming has minimal expenditure since clients pay for harvesting labour as well as transport from the farm.
"Middlemen link me to clients at a 10 per cent charge of my sales," he says.
"Muguka trees form a shade that inhibits weeds growth. These trees are hardy hence they need no fertiliser. The bitter taste of the leaves acts as a pesticide. The cost of production does not exceed 10 per cent of earnings," he says.
Mr Mwangi says that harvests act as pruning and the trees’ life-cycle is over 50 years.