Wrangles dim hopes for Sh1bn miraa revival plan

Miraa traders in Maua town
Miraa traders in Maua town. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A proposal to spend Sh1 billion allocated to revive the miraa sector for crop diversification has sparked a storm with political leaders in Meru accusing agriculture ministry of devising a scheme to embezzle the funds.

The funds were allocated to help uplift declining fortunes in the sector after a Task Force Report recommended that the crop faced serious challenges following a ban in major European markets including the Netherlands and United Kingdom.

At the time of the ban in June 2014, records indicated that around 2,560 tonnes of khat worth $23.4 million (Sh2.3 billion) had been exported to the UK between 2011 and 2012. In Meru County, the effect was felt far and wide, with serious economic impact.

Interviews with farmers and other stakeholders painted a grim picture of the sector. Mr Jacob Miriti, a farmer, said the value of a bag of high quality khat dropped from Sh50,000 to Sh20,000 due to low demand. He said a sack of ‘special’ miraa which is exported to Mogadishu is retailing at as low as Sh18,000 per bag as opposed to the Sh50,000 before the ban.

But with the recognition of miraa as a crop by the Agriculture ministry and allocation of the Sh1 billion last year, farmers’ hopes of revival of Meru’s “cash cow” were rekindled.

At the time, Nyambene Miraa Traders Association (Nyamita), Chairman Kimathi Munjuri said their “cries had finally been heard” and expressed enthusiasm that the revival would be a boon to farmers.

It was envisioned that the ministry would also seek markets for the produce, improve crop husbandry and build markets where miraa would be sold in hygienic conditions.

However, this hope of revival to save thousands of farmers seems to be a mirage, with the Sh1 billion allocated to the sector now a subject of political bickering. Although there have been assurances with Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri saying the money was with the ministry, it is still not clear how much has so far been released, and for what purpose it has been used.

Governor Kiraitu Murungi now wants Parliament to summon Mr Kiunjuri to explain the whereabouts of the money amid a backlash from Meru political leaders who accuse him of colluding with the ministry.

During Meru Central Dairy Farmers Union field day last week, Mr Kiunjuri said part of the money would be used to buy avocado and macadamia seedlings for distribution to farmers to diversify their crops.

The CS also said he had spoken to governor Murungi and reached an agreement that the money would also be used for the purpose.

But the Governor distanced himself from the funds, saying his government had not spent “even a cent of the cash” and asked Parliament to intervene and establish the truth of the matter.

“I am sick tired of lies being peddled around that I was involved in deciding that the money will be used on macadamia and avocado. The money we spent (Sh90 million) to buy the seedlings was allocated by the county assembly,” he told Nation yesterday in a phone interview.

Mr Murungi said Mr Kiunjuri was working with the Task Force implementation committee and asked the National Assembly to demand a report on the progress of activities the committee had planned or implemented so far.

The Governor spoke even as more than 20 MCAs on Wednesday defended him over allegations that he was involved in planning how the money would be spent.

Majority leader Victor Kariithi said the county assembly had at no point been involved in the allocation of the Sh1 billion.

“We have allocated funds for improvement of all crops in the county including macadamia and avocado. There are leaders who are alleging that the money is under the county government but that is not true and these people are trying to gain political mileage,” said the Athwana MCA (Tigania West).

“If there is anybody with a problem with the implementation of the Task Force report they should petition Parliament and we don’t want a situation where the county assembly or even the governor is being dragged into this matter,” he added.

The Task Force came up with recommendations including how farmers would be assisted to improve their crops.