NAIROBI — Kenyan politicians and khat traders are calling on the government to initiate talks with British officials to reverse the ban on khat and save the multi-million dollar agricultural sector from collapsing.
Kenyan farmers say the new British ban on the leafy stimulant, also known as "miraa," will have a significant adverse impact their businesses and the nation's economy. The plant, which grown in Kenya's cooler central regions for export to several European countries and Somalia, is worth big money for Kenya.
According to Kipkorir Menjo, director of the Kenya Farmers Association, the ban threatens the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people.
“The miraa industry is going to face a serious challenge because they are people in the supply chain, the farmers who are planting the crop, fellows who have been distributing, fellows who have been exporting," he said. "The whole industry is likely to collapse because this is a major market which has been earning this people good money, of course also earning the country foreign exchange.”
On Wednesday, British Home Secretary Theresa May banned the herbal stimulant, saying her country could become a transit route for illegal shipments into other European countries.
The head of the Global Miraa Industry Dealers Network, Jephat Muroko, calls the ban political.
“To me it’s a pure politics, and not only politics but also oppressive to the miraa industry traders," he said.
"I think it’s part of the consequences," he added, referring to Kenya's election of President Uhuru Kenyatta, who faces trial at the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity. "But I wonder about our government, why it’s quiet about this thing.”
Kenya's khat traders once exported about 20 tons of the crop to the Netherlands each week, before that country joined several other European neighbors, including France and Germany, in banning the leafy stimulant.
Britain imported 36 tons each week prior to implementing its own ban.
Menjo says both khat farmers and traders need to start lobbying Britain to lift the ban or start planting other cash crops.
“If there will be no headway then they will have to think for other options, but I think for now I don’t want to conclude that nobody will listen to them," he said. "Hopefully they will get some way out, but if it’s not possible they will have to think some other ways of getting their livelihood.”
As the farmers and traders digest the latest development from Europe, another battle awaits them inside Kenya: The National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse is lobbying the government to have khat classified as an illegal drug.