Kenya Farmers Call on Britain to Reverse Khat Ban

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22 July, 2013

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From VOA Learning English, this is the Agriculture Report.

Kenyan farmers say a British ban on the plant known as khat will seriously affect their business and economy. Exports of khat, also called "miraa" are worth big money to Kenya. The farmers have exported the plant mainly to Britain, other European countries and Somalia.

Khat is growing in the colder climates of central Kenya. For years, people have been using it as a drug, biting on the leaves of the plant, can increase the heart beat and make the person feel more awake.

Some Kenyan politicians and khat traders have called on the government to open talks with British officials to convince them to cancel the ban on khat. They say ending the ban would save Kenya's khat industry from collapse.

Kipkorir Menjo is the director of the Kenya Farmers Association, he says the ban will affect 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. 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."

Earlier this month, British Home Secretary Theresa May banned the leafy stimulant. She warned that traders could use Britain to move khat illegally to other European countries.

Jephat Muroko is the  head of the Global Miraa Industry Dealers Network, he says the British's decision was made for political reasons.

"To me it's a pure politics, and not only politics but also oppressive to the miraa industry traders. I think it's part of the consequences. But I wonder about our government, why it's quiet about this thing."

Khat is already banned in most European countries, including France, Germany, and Netherlands. Kenyan traders exported about 20 tons of khat to the Netherlands weekly before the ban. Another 36 tons a week were sent to Britain.

Kipkorir Menjo says khat farmers and traders need to start speaking up, so that Britain can lift the ban. If their efforts fail, he says, they will have to start planting other crops to earn money.

"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. 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 study the latest development from Europe, another battle awaits them inside Kenya: The National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse is urging the government to list khat as an illegal drug.

And that's the Agriculture Report from VOA Learning English. You can learn more news about the dispute and other agricultural issues at the voalearningenglish website. You can also find videos of our reports at the voalearningenglish channel on Youtube. I'm Milagros Ardin.