Khat( Miraa) Overview
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.
Pyrethrum (Tanacetum cinerariefolium) belongs to the genus Tanacetum in the family Compositae. The importance of pyrethrum as a source of natural insecticide “pyrethrins” the insecticide found in its flower heads is a mixture of six related pyrethrins. The insecticide has its unique properties such as lack of buildup of resistance in insect populations and low direct poisonous effects on mammals and residue problems which have acted in its favour compared to synthetic pesticides.
Pyrethrum is hardy perennial crop that thrives in interesting and challenging environment. It was first cultivated in the Dalmatian region. Globally, the crop is commercially grown China and Tasmania in Australia Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.
In Kenya, pyrethrum was first introduced by White settlers in 1928 on experimental basis and first commercialized in 1941 by Africans and White settlers. It is mainly grown by small scale farmers with less than 2 acres of land. Pyrethrum grows in the following Counties in Kenya: Nakuru, Kiambu, Nyandarua, Nyeri, Laikipia, Meru, Embu, Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet, West Pokot, TransNzoia, Bungoma (Mt. Elgon), Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Kericho, Bomet, Narok, Nyamira and Kisii.
Pyrethrum requires soils that are rich in phosphorus; calcium and magnesium with a minimum soil PH of 5.6. The soils should be fertile and well-drained with reasonably good texture and structure.
It requires a minimum of 750mm (30 inches) of rainfall well spread over the season. In warmer areas, where evaporation is high, a precipitation of 1000 to 1125mm (40 to 45 inches) well distributed per season is preferable. When there is adequate rainfall at the beginning of the season there is an immediate flower flush.
In Kenya, there are clones and varieties suitable for high altitude, above 1980 metres (approximately 6,500 feet) and for low altitudes below 1980 meters (approximately 6,500) down to 1760 metres (approximately 5,770 feet) above sea level. Best flowering is easily achieved at and over 2130 metres (7,000 feet) above sea level.
Kenya was the world-leading producer of natural pyrethrum, providing 70% of the world supply. By 1992/93, Kenya recorded the highest production at 18,000 MT commanding 90% of the global market. Pyrethrum production has been characterized by cyclic production and market trends. In the last two decades, production has declined to a low of 500 MT.
Reforms in the Pyrethrum Industry
Upon the enactment of the Crops Act 2013 and The Agriculture Fisheries and Food Authority Act, 2013 (amended), the regulatory functions have been ceded to the Agriculture and Food Authority (Miraa, Pyrethrum and Other Industrial Crops Directorate) while the commercial functions were transferred to Pyrethrum Processing Company of Kenya Limited (PPCK).
The reforms have resulted to liberalization, attracting new players at various levels of the value chain. There are now five (5) processing companies in Kenya, namely Pyrethrum Processing Company of Kenya Limited (PPCK), Botanical Extracts Export Processing Zone (BE EPZ), Africhem Botanicals Ltd, Kentegra Biotechnology and Highchem East Africa.
Pyrethrum has the potential to increase export earning, promote industrialization and spur economic growth. In the 1980’s and 1990s the sub-sector provided a livelihood to more than 200,000 small-scale growers. By 1996, pyrethrum was a major foreign exchange at a peak of Kshs. 2.1 billion. Kenya has the potential to produce and process up to 20,000 MT of pyrethrum flowers to earn Ksh. 7.5 billion from the sale of extracts per year. The pyrethrum sub-sector can provide a livelihood to 2-3 million people with direct or indirect linkage to the crop.