Khat Import Bans Cause Economic Hardship for African Farmers

December 23,2014

MERU, KENYA— Kenyan farmers are starting to pull out fields of khat -- a leafy green plant chewed as a stimulant in the Horn of Africa and in some Arab states. More countries are banning the import and sale of the plant, and six months after a British ban went into effect, Kenyan farmers are finding it hard to grow alternative crops.

Khat farmers in central Kenya are struggling to sell the leafy stimulant known as Khat or Miraa after most European countries banned its import.

It is another day on the farm for this teenager as he picks Khat leaves for local consumption.

Hilary Kiriangi said he is fearful for his future as his family struggles to find a market for their produce.

"Even though I am a student, my community economy will suffer, and someone like me I will not get school fees and a good life," he said.

Hezekiah Kiriangi has been a Khat farmer for more than 30 years. He said he also is feeling the pinch of the ban.

"Since they said we cannot export Khat my business has gone down. Whatever I was getting from the Khat before I cannot get it any more. The issue has been politicized, Khat is not a drug it is like any other crop."

The World Health Organization classifies khat as a drug of abuse because it can produce mild-to-moderate psychological dependence. But Kenyans and those living in neighboring countries, especially in the horn of Africa, disagree.

Khat is banned in most European countries and the United States and Canada.

Before the ban, khat traders exported about 60 tons of the leafy stimulant to the Netherlands and Britain weekly.

Politician Mithika Linturi said the ban has not been fair to his community and he is asking that the ban be lifted.

"If they are honest and genuine then give us notice and tell us, 'We will not accept your miraa in another 5-10 years.' That way people will be able to get other income-generating activities and prepare themselves for that eventuality. But this sudden ban is really hurting our community. We feel it. We are very desperate and the situation is very bad," said Linturi.

Critics and some government officials have called for those communities dependent on Khat to grow other crops, but farmers are finding it hard to leave what they have grown for centuries.