The government has finally addressed the chronic confusion surrounding Miraa (Khat) trade in the country and how it is viewed as negatively affecting the society.
The Chief Guest, Interior and Coordination of National Government Cabinet Secretary (CS), Dr. Fred Matiang’i, assured all stakeholders of the government’s commitment to put more resources and enhance the research on miraa for diversification.
Accompanied by his counterparts, Trade and Industrialization CS, Betty Maina and Agriculture CS, Peter Munya, Dr. Matiang’i emphasized on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s commitment to address the issues in the miraa sector.
He was speaking during the official opening of the National Miraa Scientific Conference, at the University of Nairobi.
“If you see three Cabinet Secretaries attending a single function like this, means we have been mobilized and our boss wants us to work hard on this issue of miraa once and for all,” he said, while acknowledging the work of Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi, in championing for the rights of farmers and traders of crop.
CS Matiang’i identified institutional alignment as one of the proposals that will provide solutions to the issues bedeviling the sector.
This alignment, according to the CS, will lead to regulatory harmony that will demystify chaos in managing public policy. ‘That is, one hand, will know what the other hand’s view is,” he said.
“Effective now, we are going to form an Inter-governmental Standing Committee between the County Government of Meru and the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Miraa so that work on this issue can begin in a much more coordinated manner,” he assured.
The CS requested for the recommendations and outcomes at the end of the Conference to be domesticated in the Inter-Ministerial Committee chaired by Trade Principal Secretary (PS), Johnson Weru and consistently work with the Meru County Government team in a standing arrangement.
Dr. Matiang’i promised to have a sit down with The National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) which is under his docket, to revise its position and stop harassing miraa traders and farmers across the country.
“We will have an inter-governmental synergy in addressing any issue on miraa through this Committee to complement the work already underway with an advantage of the available institutions, to achieve desired results,” he noted.
The CS also observed the government’s responsibility to support product and market development and assured that resources will be invested within the government’s policy framework, both at the Ministries of Agriculture and Trade, to address the common challenges.
“Discussions are ongoing with different governments including Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and other destinations for engagements to open up new markets and expand the sale of miraa across our region,” he maintained.
The CS said the Government will provide infrastructural support to the marketing and trade of miraa, ranging from building the shades and markets in Isiolo, in parts of Meru to supporting stakeholders to find new markets.
“Most importantly, we will pull in more actors to provide support for work that will lead to our product diversification in the miraa sector,” he said, while commending Kenya Medical Research Institute’s (KEMRI’s), participation in the conference as a public institution
He further invited players in the Ministry of Health and other health agencies as stakeholders to join and support the inter-ministerial team, which will assist in enhancing information available on miraa.
This awareness will finally deal with the negative campaign against miraa as a drug and ultimately enhance Kenya’s foreign exchange and build the economy.
CS Maina on the other hand attributed the results of some of the product development of miraa to the partnership of Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute and Kenya Bureau of Standards, adding that the necessary certification will be provided once scientists have satisfactorily concluded their work on quality and recommendations.
“On market development, it is true that several of our general markets have been hampered by the bans or restrictions on sale of miraa but this scientific progress we are making, will help us regain some of those markets,” she noted, while identifying other markets Kenya is looking into like Djibouti, DRC, Mozambique, Israel, and Yemen.
The CS maintained that the inroads to these regional markets are still works in progress and the government, in a bid to address the health concerns from other countries, has directed its goal to value addition and diversification of miraa and not just consumption in its rawest form.
CS Munya insisted on crop husbandry and research as his Ministry’s main aim to deal with difficulties in the crop farming through collaboration with other stakeholders.
“Research is critical and currently, we have been able to isolate the chemical components in miraa and are able to identify the stimulant as a very strong anti-oxidant that boosts human immunity,” he revealed.
The Meru County Governor, Kiraitu Murungi, said miraa is the backbone of the economy of the County, affecting about a half a million people.
“Traditional markets have banned miraa on the basis of being labelled as a hard drug which is untrue rather, it is a simple stimulant,” he emphasized.
The Governor lauded the President’s continuous efforts and support for the miraa trade and hoped that the Conference will finally be able to diversify the miraa sector through value addition and remove regulatory hurdles currently experienced.
The National Miraa Scientific Conference is jointly organized by KEMRI and Meru County Government and focuses on research-based evidence on the impact of miraa on health, society and the economy.
By Michael Omondi