Varsity dropout sets sights on miraa juice

Mr Job Ndirangu samples his miraa juice. PHOTO | irene mugo
Mr Job Ndirangu samples his miraa juice. PHOTO | irene mugo 

Job Ndirangu dropped out of university and for six years he has remained without an income-generating activity.

While the former landscape architecture student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology would give his watchers the image of an idle mind, he says his was not the devil’s workshop.

Although he has been chewing miraa (khat) for many years, Mr Ndirangu at 28 years is taking an unfamiliar step in the miraa-growing zone: he wants to manufacture juice from the stimulant whose export has been banned in some international markets.

Armed with a brand name for the concoction that he sips ease, Mr Ndirangu has approached the Kenya Bureau of Standards for accreditation for industrial production of the “juice”. However, Kebs has many questions for him, although the regulator has given him an ear on how to improve the product he has named Handaz.

Among the people chewing miraa, handas means mild intoxication. It is this name that he has twisted into ‘Handaz.

According to the Nyeri manager of Kebs Gordon Onjore, they intend to work with Mr Ndirangu into improving his product but “he has to provide specifics for standardisation of his product.”

Mr Onjore rules out referring to this product as a juice until these specs leave no grey areas. For example, such a product cannot be sold to underage people, and the brand owner needs to explain how it will be preserved to increase its shelf-life because in the present formation it ferments within four days.

According to Kebs, these steps require intense testing on a number of people before the product heads to the shop shelves.

Mr Ndirangu says he walked out of university convinced architecture was not his dream profession, and he detested formal employment.

Although miraa is a multimillion shilling revenue earner, the commodity has not attain full financial potential for lack of viable value addition and market.

Farmers have dropped miraa for other crops while the government has been trying to have the khat ban in the United Kingdom lifted.

Before the ban in June 2014, it was estimated the stimulant’s contribution to the Kenyan economy was at $100 million (Sh10 billion). “Most people who love miraa do it while hiding because it is mostly affiliated to poverty but we are targeting the middle class who would want to consume the product freely,” Mr Ndirangu said.

He says adding value to the stimulant is the solution to the dwindling fortunes of the sub-sector that will see farmers and businessmen earn better.

Not working with food scientists so far, he intends to partner with research institutions on improving the product like extending shelf life, he said.

It took him three months to research on the crop, says the juice keeps the euphoric feeling and stimulation effects within a shorter time.

“Chewing miraa is time-consuming because one cannot juggle between other business while with the juice you just sip and carry on with other businesses,” he said.

He also said chewing miraa has numerous side effects like tooth decay, mouth cancer, and kidney stones compared to taking the same commodity in liquid form.

After chewing, miraa users can feel calm and could make pre-existing mental health problems worse and it can provoke feelings of anxiety and aggression, according research.