- They say ‘patience has its limits’ and it seems some Kenyan farmers have now had enough and thrown in the towel.
- As drought and erratic weather wreaks havoc across rural Kenya, a growing number of farmers are now abandoning traditional crops like maize and rice for the more lucrative muguka, a potent legal stimulant that relieves fatigue.
- Muguka’s success is, however, making authorities and agriculture experts very uncomfortable.
For decades, Kenyan farmers have spent many hours plowing their small acres of fields to plant maize which is the country’s staple food.
Despite making little or no profit many were content with repeating the ‘farming circle’ year in year out hoping things will improve and one day their sweats will bear fruits.
They say ‘patience has its limits’ and it seems some Kenyan farmers have now had enough and thrown in the towel.
Maize crop affected by drought
As drought and erratic weather wreaks havoc across rural Kenya, a growing number of farmers are now abandoning traditional crops like maize and rice for the more lucrative muguka/miraa, a potent legal stimulant that relieves fatigue.
One such farmer is Albert Njeru who slashed his maize plantation and replaced them with 2 acres (0.80 hectares) of bushy green muguka leaves, after years of suffering. He is not regretting his move.
“Muguka gives me a lot of money. Farming maize or beans used to give me losses,” the 45-year-old farmer at his home in Kanyuambora, a village in central Kenya told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A muguka farmer in Kenya. (The Standard)
Thanks to muguka, Njeru can now make Sh30,000 ($290) in just one week which is five times more than he used to make selling maize or beans.
“It is green gold,” he said.
Compared to maize which takes time to mature muguka is fast-growing, making it less vulnerable to large swings in weather conditions, and uses about half as much water as maize, Njeru explained.
A miraa trade in Maua, Kenya
Internationally, Kenya’s muguka is also making inroads more signalling even more good fortunes to come.
Last month, after years of blockade, Kenya finally started exporting the potent twigs to Israel, effectively joining its rival Ethiopia which is currently one of the key khat exporters into the Israeli market.
The new market is expected to help cushion the local farmers from more loss after key European markets banned the stimulant three years ago.
Pick-ups transporting miraa from Meru to the Wilson Airport for export.
About 400 kilograms of the stimulant is exported to Tel Aviv every week with the volumes expected to grow to about 200 tonnes in weekly exports to Israel.
Kenya’s currently exports the stimulant to Puntland in Somalia, Somaliland, Mozambique and Angola.
Many farmers have since upgraded from mud huts to modern stone houses from fat proceeds of Muguka.
Deputy President William Ruto and Meru County Senator, Mithika Linturi chewing muguka.
But the success of Muguka spells bad news for food supplies across the country. Kenya is prone to annual drought which is occasioned by severe food shortage which has on numerous occasions seen the country forced to import maize to feed its population.
Agriculture experts and local politicians, warn of a potential food crop shortage as farmers clear their fields of staples to make way for muguka.
“Farmers are not interested in growing maize anymore. They want money in their pockets. Muguka is giving them that and a lot more, since they can use the profits to buy more nutritious food,” said Martin Mwangi, a member of Embu County’s assembly.
“But the long-term consequences could lead to food insecurity due to reduced production.”
Farmers airing their muguka leaves ready for sale. (Standard)
And one doesn’t need to look far to know what is coming, in the neighbouring County of Kirinyaga farmers who for years used to grow the country’s highest-quality rice are now busy cultivating the potent twigs.
“Water used for irrigating rice is now being diverted into muguka fields,” Mwangi cautioned.
There is, however, no official record of just how many farmers have switched from growing food crops to muguka nor is there data on how much land is being used for muguka, according to Kenya’s Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA).
Miraa tree. (The Conversation)
Muguka’s potency is also making the authorities uncomfortable. In 2018, legislators in Mombasa and Kwale counties lobbied unsuccessfully for a sales and consumption ban on muguka over fears of addiction among young people.
The National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse supported the move, citing social and health worries.
“Muguka is worse than hard drugs because of its highly addictive nature. It is ruining homes, the country’s youth and should be banned,” said Victor Okioma, its chief executive.
A woman and her daughter tie miraa into small bundles in Mogadishu
Yet, even with all the risks attached to muguka, many Kenyan farmers are hoping it will save their livelihoods.
After years of toiling under the hot sun growing maize and have nothing to show for it who can blame them for simply looking out for themselves, after all, they got mouths to feed, don’t they?