Miraa growers big winners as the big two fight to win them over
Repeated trips to the zone suggest farmers vote is not being taken for granted by the main presidential contenders.
With hundreds of thousands of voters in Nyambene, Meru County, dependent on miraa, the main presidential candidates are not taking their support for granted.
President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to visit the county today — his visit coming hot on the heels of National Super Alliance presidential candidate Raila Odinga’s tour — to woo the estimated 200,000 miraa farmers.
Thousands more of the residents depend on the crop indirectly for sustenance.
Over 600,000 households rely on miraa, which is banned in European markets and politicians are coming to their rescue.
The Igembe region has become a rich hunting ground for votes for Raila who seems to give it more attention.
In his recent visits to the county, he spent more time in main growing areas of Laare, Mutuate, Maua and other areas in Igembe.
Mr Odinga told the farmers he had the solution to their plight. And many, judging by the enthusiastic reception he was accorded during his stops, are taking him seriously.
Meru Woman Rep Florence Kajuju toured the region on Friday to ask farmers not to be duped by Raila that he will rescue them.
Speaking in Laare, the same place where Raila addressed farmers, Kajuju said Raila was politicising miraa with the aim of getting farmers to vote for him.
On Saturday, members of a task force constituted by the President held a meeting at the trading centre, to drum up support for Jubilee Party.
A section of farmers are already on Raila’s side as the discontent with the Government grows due to the significantly reduced incomes.
“Most of us depend on miraa to pay school fees, clothe and feed our children. Miraa sustains the entire population and is credited for the development in Igembe. In my case I had to transfer my daughter from a better private school to a day secondary school,” said Jackson Mutethia, who has seven acres under the crop.
Mutethia said he used to earn upwards of Sh100,000 weekly from miraa sales.
“But when it was banned I, like others, lost a lot of money. Now we sell miraa at throwaway prices because we are the mercy of middlemen. I am going to vote for Raila because the Jubilee government has not looked for alternative markets for us,” said Mutethia, a father of four.
Raila, at stops in Laare last week, told farmers he would help get markets that would fetch them high income for sustenance.
It is a pledge that has been met with scorn by a section of stakeholders involved in miraa, and area leaders.
“Raila cannot help miraa farmers because he has never done anything. It is only President Kenyatta who has, for the first time, appreciated the importance of miraa to our people. For the first time miraa issues are now being discussed in Parliament, and budgeted for,” said Kajuju.
Kajuju said Mr Kenyatta was concerned about the welfare of farmers as the ban continues to bite the vast region.
“Uhuru signed a law recognising miraa as a legal crop that will be given support as other crops like coffee and tea. When the Government budgets to support agriculture, miraa will always be factored.
“He has allocated a total of Sh2.2 billion to support the miraa industry,” Kajuju said.