Local khat (miraa) traders are exploring new markets for the herb in a bid to cushion farmers following its ban from the UK.
Nyambene Miraa Traders Associations spokesperson Kimathi Munjuri said this was a move to save the business from collapse.
“We are now scouting for new markets as well as expand the existing ones for the crop in Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Australia, India, Malaysia, and China,” said Mr Munjuri, adding that the traders are currently exporting 10 tonnes (Sh7 million) per week to South Africa but are targeting to export almost 30 tonnes (Sh21 million) to China.
Speaking during a phone interview with Smart Company, the Meru County women’s representative, Ms Florence Kajuju, who is also the chairperson of the committee that was formed to investigate the issue, said they were working to ensure that the herb is classified as a cash crop.
Recently, the National Authority for Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) classified miraa as a drug, a move that pushed the association to sue the organisation, citing lack of scientific evidence for their action.
“There was no scientific proof for labelling the crop a drug. That is why we are involving various ministries, including Health and Agriculture, to look into the matter as well as Nacada and Kebs,” said Ms Kajuju, adding that this was set to see the team come up with a policy that will place miraa among other cash crops.
According to Mr Munjuri, the traders are currently facing several other challenges that threaten their survival.
“It has now become very expensive to export the product after Kenya Airways increased the rates of transporting the commodity to London,” he said.
The increase, he said, is reducing the profit margins traders have been making from the export, a situation that is likely to have informed their move to search for alternative markets for the product.
The national carrier raised the freight charged to $5.50 up from $5 per kilogramme.
“Other carriers, though cheaper, are very limited in terms of space, flight frequency, and delivery time,” said Mr Munjuri.
Other players affected are harvesters, packers, and graders who, according to Mr Munjuri, have opted to seek supplementary income sources as there is little or no work for three days in the week.
Some transporters have had to either sell their fleets after the Netherlands closure or shifted them to other businesses.
“In total, less than 20 vehicles are leaving Meru with miraa daily instead of the usual over 30 vehicles,” he notes.
Meanwhile, the traders are hoping that the decision by the UK government will be revoked.
“We are mobilising resources towards making a trip to London as a team comprising farmers, traders, transporters, graders, airline agents, and local leaders for them to see and talk to the real miraa dealers with hope to win as many MPs as possible and while there, exploit the court approach,” said Mr Munjuri.