Series "Khat: the Kenyan cash crop" - 2018/2019 - Maua, Meru District, Kenya
Between five to ten million people chew khat daily around the world, mostly in the horn of Africa. One of the primary production zones of those stems with similar effects to amphetamines is situated at the east of Mount Kenya. Even though it’s considered as a drug by the World Health Organization, the khat, called « Miraa » here, is part of the traditions of the Meru people.
Maua, a small town inhabited by a few dozens of thousands of inhabitants, is the capital of the khat production. Situated in the hilly regions, in the outskirt of the savannah, Maua enjoys an ideal climate and a fertile ground for the cultivation of khat trees. Every evening, on its main arterial road, brokers and small traders, farmers and jeep drivers are gathering to dispatch as fast as possible the production of the day.
Here, the khat is dubbed the « cash crop », and its rarity makes it a coveted production. Local farmers, mainly from the Meru tribe, are the main suppliers. According to them, the khat is considered as a blessing from the god. The landlords get a comfortable monthly income whereas daily workers, on top of their salary, can enjoy a benefit in kind, with euphoric effects.Some farmers, mainly Christians, use black magic to protect their fields, as it is prevalent in the rural areas surrounding Maua. For cultural reasons, khat is primarily kept for men, from harvest to consumption. Women are mostly taking care of farming the fields, and harvesting tea, which is much more tiresome and less profitable.
The Somali community is the main khat consumer, and also control the khat supplies outside of the Meru county. Through a very efficient logistics, its traders can dispatch tons of khat, freshly harvested, towards Mogadishu markets, in less than 12 hours.
The Somali community is sometimes wrongly associated to the terrorist organisation Al-Chebab which organised the recent attacks in Kenya, but in Maua, native people and Somali diaspora are interdependent and are cooperating, to share the fruits of this cash crop.