There is need to ban miraa even in Kenya to save lives

While miraa (Khat) plays a critical role in earning income, the production and final consumption of it has many negatives that outweigh the positives.

What is intriguing is that even as Britain has seen the need to put a ban on its trade, we here in Kenya have not even started to have a serious discussion on the adverse effects of its use on individuals, households, communities and the country even asĀ  the negative consequences of miraa are becoming more apparent by the day.

First miraa is indeed a drug as rightly classified by World Health Organisation ( WHO) since 1989 and locally in Kenya by National Authority for the Campaign against Drug Abuse ( NACADA). As a drug, it has compounds, which depending on the level of usage, have social-economic and health problems on individuals and communities.

The social negative consequences include high divorce rates, prostitution, neglect of family and children especially in provision of education, low self-esteem and under-achieving among the persons addicted to miraa. Another noted concern has been the way the use of miraa contributes to theft by its users in search of money to satisfy their craving. Miraa aids tooth decay, lack of appetite and insomnia leading to psychosis, irritability and violence.

Even with meagre resources available, its users will normally prioritise to buy it instead of purchasing food for the households. This situation leads to loss of valuable household cash and income prospects over the long run, meaning food insecurity and malnutrition where the head of the house is a consumer of the substance. For example, during the last drought in 2011-2012, a miraa addict from Wajir County with a herd of 20 goats lost 5 of his goats due to the drought and sold 5 of his to cater for his household food purchase. He also admitted to selling another five goats to cater for his daily Miraa use.

At present no in-depth study has been done in Kenya on the loss of livelihoods, human capital and man hours as a result of use of miraa on household, communities and the country. However, it is evident enough that were such a study to be conducted, it would reveal a shockingly huge loss of the same.

The biggest national asset we have in Kenya is our human capital. As observed, the country is the ultimate loser if the use of miraa continues unabated and affects individual and collective productivity. The man-hour loss from self-induced addiction will compromise our development at all levels.

The socio-economic destruction of lives and livelihoods resulting from Khat use far outweighs the perceived economic and the concerns of the farmers in Meru County who can diversify to horticulture farming like their counterparts in Kirinyaga County. There is need to use the currently available arable land for cultivation of food crops instead of miraa. The land used for miraa growing should be included in this planning, as it is some of the best.

Provision should be made to introduce high value alternatives to miraa production. As already observed horticultural production would be a credible alternative which would fetch farmers the same level of income, if not more. A strategy for discouraging use of miraa in Kenya should be a multi-pronged one with a long time frame involving media, community campaigns, age limits on usage and provision of alternative livelihood means for these farmers.

Kenya should also seek to learn from best large scale practices where such efforts have succeeded. The targeted campaigns should specifically be tailored for the different user groups especially the youth and communities including those involved in miraa cultivation in Meru as already suggested and those registered as high users such as those of North Eastern, Nairobi and Eastern regions.

Immediate steps should be embarked on with the ultimate objective of eliminating its use. In doing this, we will only be doing the responsible thing beneficial to our people.

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