Mixed reactions as Kenya farmers suspend Somalia ‘miraa’ export

Johanna Karithu [left], a farmer, brings his fresh khat ‘miraa’ harvest for sale at Maua town, eastern Kenya. Traders [right] display fresh khat 'miraa' twigs at Maua town. Khat, an evergreen shrub native to tropical East Africa, is chewed fresh for their stimulating effects. Much of the khat harvests used to be exported to Somalia via Mandera town at the Kenya- Somalia border. XINHUA PHOTOS - TOM MARUKO

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News that Kenyan farmers were suspending the export of the stimulant leaf ‘khat’ (locally know as ‘miraa’) to Somalia has been received with mixed reactions in Mogadishu with concerns over economic hurt and family relations topping the agenda.

Three days ago, Kenyan farmers stopped the export of ‘miraa’ to Somalia, citing the move by the Somalia government to increase taxation on the commodity as unfair to the business.

The Somali government has imposed a 100 per cent tax increase, an equivalent of 200 U.S. dollars per kilogram.

An average of 16 flights depart to and from Mogadishu everyday carrying ‘miraa’ which is sold mainly in Mogadishu and retailed in various parts of the country.

The economic repercussions of the suspension has hit many traders in Mogadishu whose livelihoods depend on sales of ‘miraa’.

Most of them have been out of business for three days now, and will be forced to look for alternative source of income to sustain their families if the suspension continues.

Hawa Ali, a mother of five, said she has not been able to feed her children and meet daily bills because her source of income has been cut off.

“I have been doing this business for years and all my children have been able to pursue their studies from this business.

“So if this business stops today then I don’t know where else I will get income from,” Hawa told Xinhua in Mogadishu on Tuesday.

Somali men have a tradition of sitting in restaurants mainly on the roadside taking tea then break into a long story session into the evening chewing ‘miraa’.

But now that there’s no ‘miraa’ from Kenya, even the bar owners are complaining.

“The last two days have been sad for me, because no one is coming for tea here.

“Most men come here to take tea and chew ‘miraa’ but since there is no ‘miraa’, my place remains empty,” said Rahmo Dahir who sells tea in a small restaurant in Mogadishu.

For others, it is not a worry over a source of income but their health.

Considered a stimulant, ‘miraa’ has an addictive effect and those who chew it live by it for years.

Talking to Xinhua from his bed in Mogadishu, Hassan Haji said he has been lying in bed for two days now because he has not chewed khat and his body isn’t working optimally.

“I have been chewing ‘miraa’ for the last three decades now so my system is so used to the leaf that I cannot do anything without chewing it.

“We call on the governments of Somalia and Kenya to intervene over this matter,” said Haji.

But not everyone in Mogadishu mourns over the suspension of ‘miraa’ import.

‘Miraa’ has been attributed to family breakdowns as men spend the whole day chewing and not engaging in any meaningful activity.

So the suspension has been a welcome note to some families.

Fartun Ali Nor said for once her husband is home by afternoon and they can be able to have meal together with the children.

“For a long time my husband has been coming home as late as 2.00 a.m. after chewing ‘miraa’whole and out very early morning for another around but for the last two days we are happy to have him back and the children have a chance to chat with their father.

“We pray that no more ‘miraa’ comes to this country,” said Fartun.

Gure Farah, an elder shares similar sentiments noting that many young men have lost their lives and their future to ‘miraa’.

“I am glad to learn of the suspension and I hope that it be a permanent one.

“People can look for alternative sources of income without necessarily having to rely on ‘miraa’,” Farah said.
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