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Meru miraa traders say Somalia flights ban ruining their business

Monday July 06 2020
miraa

A screenshot of a cargo the plane ferrying 13.6 tons of miraa destined to Somaliland after it was turned back at the Kenya-Somalia border. Farmers who grow miraa exclusively meant for the Somali market have appealed for an end to the ongoing flights ban. PHOTO | COURTESY

By DAVID MUCHUI

Farmers who grow miraa varieties popular with the export market have decried harsh economic times following the suspension of international cargo flights into Somalia amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The farmers from lower lying parts of the Nyambene ranges In Meru County, particularly in Karama, Athiru, Kanjoo among others grow the ‘Grade’ or ‘Kiza’ variety which is exclusively meant for the Somalia market.

According to the farmers, the variety is preferred for export due to its succulent trait that enables it to remain fresh after several hours of transportation.

The variety is largely grown under irrigation.

Led by Nyambene Miraa Sacco Chairman Moses Lichoro, the farmers from Kabuitu in Igembe Central called on President Uhuru Kenyatta to engage his Somalia counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi for the resumption of cargo flights.

SAVINGS DEPLETED

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Mr Lichoro said farmers have run out of their savings after the ban, which is now in the third month, cut off their income.

He said since their miraa variety has no market locally, they have been forced to prune their trees and occasionally sell small amounts to local traders.

“We have drained our savings and now many farmers cannot afford a meal because we have nowhere to sell our miraa. The situation is dire and the President should move with speed to reopen the economy and engage our neighbours to allow cargo flights,” Mr Lichoro said.

He said more than 50 workers were being engaged on his miraa farms daily before Covid-19 shut the economy.

“Before the Covid-19 shutdown was declared, I would sell miraa worth more than Sh3 million every month. Over 50 people would earn wages from my farms but many of them are now jobless. Some of them are still relying on me for their daily subsistence. Life is too hard for us,” he said.

SALES DOWN

Mr Bernard Mwiti, a farmer, said he was making Sh500,000 in miraa sales three months ago but now he can hardly get Sh50,000.

Ms Felicity Makena, another farmer, said the closure of the Somalia airspace has had a major negative effect on the economy in miraa growing areas.

“We laud the President for the law that recognised miraa as a cash crop. Miraa is the primary source of income in Kabuitu but without a market, we will suffer. The President should move with speed to save the situation,” Ms Makena said.

According to Mr Lichoro, Nyambene Miraa Sacco, which has 1,200 members, has hit its lending limit due to increased borrowing from cash-strapped farmers.

Somalia closed its airspace and banned cargo flights apart from medical supplies, late March after recording its first Covid-19 case.

The trade with Somalia was further complicated by suspension of local flights in the neighbouring country.

Early June, the Somali government reportedly revoked the licences of two airlines for smuggling in miraa in the guise of medical supplies, as traders strived to beat the Covid-19 restrictions.

According to Nyambene Miraa Traders Association, Somalia takes in about 50 tonnes of miraa daily valued at about Sh100 million during the peak season.

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