FEATURED: The Bushy Roads In The City Of Accra: Who Is Sleeping On The Job?...

03.10.2008 Kenya

Kenya anger at Britain's ban on khat 'drug'


NAIROBI (AFP) - Angry Kenyan farmers growing the stimulant khat, a crop branded a drug and banned by Britain, demanded Monday that British army training bases and British-owned farms be shut down in retaliation for the ban.

Khat -- called miraa in Kenya, a multi-million dollar (pound / euro) export business -- is the leaves and shoots of the shrub Catha edulis, which are chewed to obtain a mild stimulant effect.

"We do not see why we should live side by side with our enemies ... with people who are conspiring to punish Kenyans," said Kimathi Munjuri, spokesman for the Nyambene Miraa Trade Association, one of the key growing regions for the bushy herb, in northeastern Kenya.

Last week, Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May classified khat as a drug, effectively closing Kenya's last khat market in Europe, after the Netherlands banned the stimulant in January.

Britain, the former colonial ruler, still sends troops to train in northern Kenya.

Large tracts of land are also owned or farmed by British nationals.

"The British have training bases in the middle of miraa-growing regions," Munjuri added. "They own land among us and now we will adopt stands to make them feel our importance."

Britain's ban was made despite findings from government experts that there was insufficient evidence khat is harmful.

Khat farmers say they export up to 60 tonnes of khat to London each week.

Locally, a kilogramme of the plant goes for around eight dollars (five pounds, six euros), a trade estimated to be worth up to $24 million (16 million pounds, 18 million euros) a year.

"A ban will cripple the economy of the area," said Florence Kajuju, a lawmaker for the khat-growing constituency of Tigania East, adding that the ban would impact thousands of families.

There has been no official Kenyan reaction.

Although khat is grown across the Horn of Africa region as well as in Yemen largely for domestic and regional use, much of Kenya's crop is cultivated for export, with the main growing area around the Meru region.

Khat bushes can take up to four years to mature and large-scale farms have been running for decades.

While grown in fertile highlands where other crops such as maize and potatoes also do well, khat is preferred for its relatively high profit margins.