For decades residents from Igembe Region in Meru County have been wholly relying on Miraa crop for their livelihood, but now things have started to change.
The ban of Miraa crop in major international markets has highly affected the financial status of the residents.
In June 2014 United Kingdom (UK), home to one of khat’s biggest markets, declared the stimulant a class C drug and banned all imports, prompting Igembe rapid descent into economic purgatory.
Since the early 1990s, Britain imported between 2,500 to 2,800 tonnes a year.
In 2013, The Netherlands, which was the then biggest foreign market for Miraa banned its sale prompting outcry from Kenyan Miraa farmers and traders mostly from the Igembe region.
Two years ago Somalia, which was also a major Miraa market, also banned the sale of Miraa, causing the farmers and traders from Igembe to lose an estimated Sh5 million first month after the ban after the Somali Civil Aviation Authority (SCAA) warned that the herb remains illegal in the country.
Apart from the lack of Miraa market, the residents here are feeling the pangs of the climate change effects. The climate change which has resulted in global warming has made the miraa crop to start drying up and it’s not only miraa crop but also other crops like maize and beans which are not drought resistant.
With these challenges residents from Igembe have now started farming “Nguso” sorghum, a variety of sorghum crop which is drought resistant as a way of sourcing for their livelihood and that of their children, thanks to Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), an organisation which has partnered with farmers and other stakeholders in introducing sorghum farming in the region.
According to Sabina Riungu a resident and a farmer, ever since when they started farming sorghum, they have realised a lot of benefits now that crops like maize and beans plus miraa crop which they used to rely upon do not do well as they dry up due to lack of enough rains.
Sabina says “Nguso sorghum” crop was doing well as it does not need a lot of rainfall noting that there is no any source of a river within Igembe region, and that the crop fetch good money, adding that they are now able to pay school fees for their children and cater for other family financial needs.
She says, apart from selling the sorghum one can also use it as food for the family and also use by-products of the crop to feed livestock.
Another farmer Susan Karambu who has also ventured into “Nguso sorghum” farming says, soon after the COVID-19 was reported in the country and lack of International market for Miraa, residents started suffering as they relied wholly on miraa crop.
She says the effect of lack of market for miraa and the start of dry-up of miraa crop left them with no financial income and the effects were that their children started to be chased out of schools due to school fees and even some families started going without some meals.
Karambu says after the sorghum was introduced to them by PACJA, they can now afford basic needs and also be able to educate their children.
She says in an acre, a farmer can harvest 15 to 18 bags of 90 kgs each and get good money after selling the same at Kshs. 32 per Kg, adding that sorghum farming doesn’t need much capital and that the cost of farming is minimal compare with other crops like maize and beans which both of the crop is not reliable due to climate change as they are not drought resistance.
Loise Gatwiri a youth from the area who is a teacher by profession narrated to us on how she lost her teaching job while other youths who relied on Miraa market also faced the same soon after the COVID-19 hit the county in the year 2019.
She says she had to find another alternative and that when she decided to venture into sorghum farming after undergoing farming training organised by PACJA, a thing she says she cannot regret as it is giving her a good income.
According to James Kanye, an agricultural officer with PACJA, people should know that the effects of climate change are real and farmers in the country should start embracing crops which have been researched and found to be drought resistant and fast maturing.
He says in most cases, rains are being experienced when it’s a bit late and sometimes the rains are not enough hence the need for farming drought resistant crops so that the country can be self-sufficient in terms of food capacity.
Kanye urged farmers also to focus on farming crops which have a ready market, noting that sorghum which is being grown in this region of Igembe has a ready market as PACJA and farmers have partnered with East Africa Breweries Limited through public/ private partnership.
And with the effects of climate change being a reality, there is a need for both National and County governments to start sensitizing farmers on the need for farming drought resistant crops so that Kenyans can stop relying on relief food from the government and other non-governmental organizations.