Miraa, the local name for Khat (Catha edulis) is a plant that grows wild in countries bordering the Red Sea and along the east coast of Africa, Khat is native to the horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It is an evergreen shrub, which is cultivated as a bush or small tree. The plant is seedless and hardy, growing in a variety of climates and soils. Miraa can be grown in droughts where other crops have failed and also at high altitudes. The succulent young tender twigs, leaves and shoots of the tree are consumed raw.
Globally, Khat is grown on commercial basis in Ethiopia, Yemen, Kenya and Eritrea. In Kenya, the crop grows naturally in many parts of the country and is cultivated in large quantities in Meru, Tharaka Nithi and Embu Counties. In Meru County, Miraa has been grown since the early 19th century with most plantations concentrated in the Nyambene hills. In the Mbeere region of Embu County majority of farmers have embraced Miraa production as a diversification strategy to boost their income as well as mitigate the production risks inherent in food crop production.
It is estimated that 20 million people in the world consume Miraa on a daily basis. The most common mode of consumption is chewing but it is occasionally taken as a ‘tea’. The succulent young tender leaves and shoots of the tree are consumed for both functional and recreational purposes. Miraa consumption causes mild euphoria and handas (a common Kenyan word for Miraa effect), which helps the user remain alert at work, or to be loquacious in social settings.
Miraa producers have traditionally targeted domestic markets in major towns and export markets. Miraa export data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics for 2008 to 2012 period shows the highest export earnings to have reached KES 6.9 billion foreign exchange. Somalia is the largest export market, while Somaliland, Djibouti, Israel, Mozambique, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda are potential markets.