By John Majau
When Miraa farming was started in early 1940s in Nyambene region, Meru County, women were totally prohibited from consuming and selling of the lucrative khat that first originated from Harare in Ethiopia in the 11th century before spreading to Kenya in 14th century.
But things have changed as women have taken over the business. According to Nyambene Miraa Traders Association (NYAMITA) 90 per cent of miraa traders are women.
Jane Mwonjaru, 83-year-old, noted that women were not only prohibited from growing miraa but also were not allowed to go near the place where the old men used to seat and chew the khat.
“A woman was not allowed at all to chew or even touch miraa of their husband. If a messenger would bring Miraa and find the man of the house was not present he would not leave it with the wife,” said Mwonjaru.
The granny said any woman who was found chewing miraa was perceived to be an outcast, morally loose and would not get a man to marry her.
She noted that it was perceived to be a sacred plant that connected people with God and ancestors adding that Miraa was also used during sacrifice’s and rituals done to appease gods, seal marriages, naming ceremonies, circumcision for boys, ear piercing, and initiation to Njuri Ncheke Council of Elders.
NYAMITA National chairman Kimanthi Munjuri said women have dominated the industry a move he said has been attributed by erosion of traditions and norms which banned women from engaging in Miraa affair.
He noted that many women empowerment self-help groups are giving them capital to venture in the business.
“In Maua, Laare and Mutuati trading centres you will find women selling miraa in the streets during the day and at night competing fiercely with their male counterpart and beating them in the game,” he said.
Mary Kanario, a daily miraa trader and a consumer, said her business has been doing well.
“It is a good business. Miraa is not harmful as some claim but it actually ensures one remains active. It stimulates one’s feelings and body alertness, nobody goes insane or loses senses after chewing the plant,” she said.
She observed that Miraa farming has helped many families in Nyambene and Tigania regions to fight poverty and boost the economy of the county adding the government should empower women engaged in miraa farming or trade through financial incentives.
Munjuri criticized the government for holding the release of Sh2 billion to Miraa farmers as promised by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017.
He demanded explanation from the Miraa Implementation Task Force appointed to oversee the sharing of the funds to farmers on how the funds were used.
At least 100 tonnes of Miraa leave the region daily fetching about Sh 10 million per day income from the export.
Amina Mohamed, a trader in Maua town, called on the government to help in opening new markets for the crop after it was banned in UK, Netherland ,Tanzania and other countries, a thing she said has lead to the loss of millions of shillings in the lucrative business.