Meru legislators have welcomed proposals contained in the Presidential Taskforce on Miraa, exuding confidence the stimulant will be thrust into a national cash crop status.
Speaking on Tuesday in Nairobi, Senator Kiraitu Murungi and four other MPs from the County said the recommendations for the crop to receive constant funding and marketing will influence national policies that will protect miraa farmers for the first time in Kenya’s history.
“In the previous regimes, Miraa had an on-off existence; sometimes it was legal, sometimes it was illegal,” he told journalists at his private office in Nairobi.
“Miraa is now a cash crop just like any other,” he added.
The MPs who also included Kubai Kiringo, Joseph M’ariaku, Mpuru Aburi and former legislator Maoka Maore were reacting to a report by the Presidential Taskforce on the Development of Miraa, appointed in June last year, to look into ways of developing the crop amid global bans in major markets.
““We believe these recommendations, if taken in will improve the livelihood of our people by ensuring a national structured handling of Miraa,” added Mr M’aruaki.
Among the recommendations in the report include registering all miraa farmers as a way of determining the financial needs required to help them improve on the crop.
The report also suggests that the crop, often chewed as a stimulant, should be processed into ways that clients can consume it better than, the sometimes, irritating leaf chewing.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, at the time of forming the Taskforce, also allocated Sh1.2 billion to be used in the miraa processing sector.
The money was not released but the President on Tuesday directed that all the recommendations be implemented immediately, including the release of the money through the Taskforce, now turned into an implementing agency.
Banned from the Netherlands and the UK, its main markets, the crop had become a hot political issue as farmers in Meru and other growing regions demanded national protection that had not existed before.
The Taskforce was among the early responses by the President, seeking to determine if the crop can be turned into something readily available on shelves, determine number of those involved and research on general improvements of the product.
The Report suggested a possibility of creating a national miraa development agency, putting it at same level with tea and coffee which have traditionally had such bodies. Once registered, farmers could receive financial assistance from a part of the Sh1.2 billion.
Here, the MPs showed up a at press conference with wine and juice they claimed was made from miraa leaves, suggesting that the new report should influence development of such industries in the area.
“Miraa is always a good thing for the people of Meru. We have had to fight false claims of infertility and other health issues, there is no evidence. We believe that this report should put to an end those lies and allow authorities to develop the crop,” claimed Mr Aburi, the MP for Tigania East.
“Our fight was justified,” added Kubai Kiringo.
Mr Murungi, an aspirant for Meru Governor’s seat said the recommendations should now silence rivals who had banked on the lack of national government’s will to gain ground. He argued his opponents had used “propaganda” and mudslinging using Miraa.
“We want to appeal to our people not to politicise this crop further and allow the implementation agencies to do their work.
If made a cash crop, Miraa will also be subjected to stringent quality checks mostly by the Kenya Bureau of Standards.
But where will the market be? The government will have to negotiate for favourable policies in the remaining markets in the region.
Last year Somalia temporarily banned miraa planes from Kenya after it accused Meru Governor Peter Munya of “trying to break up our country” when he negotiated for a deal directly with Somaliland.
That Mr Munya and several other MPs didn’t show up at the Murungi press conference, perhaps indicates that the political connotations of the reports are obvious.