NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 17 – Khat farmers and traders are seeking to expand beyond their traditional Somali chewing markets to make a foray into China, they said in a statement Friday.
Khat — or "miraa" as it is sometimes referred to — is a mild narcotic leaf chewed by millions in Somalia but a controlled substance in many countries.
"Our aim is to diversify from the traditional export markets for miraa of Somalia, London and Holland," said Kimathi Munjuri, from the marketing arm of Nyamita, the national umbrella body for khat farmers and traders.
Together with Ethiopia and Yemen, Kenya is a top khat producer.
Khat is illegal in most European Union countries but large quantities are flown every day to Britain and the Netherlands — both home to a large part of the Somali diaspora, where the plant is legal.
Major khat consumption markets also include Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and Israel but Munjuri said most of these countries were bound by bilateral supply agreements and explained that China was the best prospect.
"We already are discussing directly over the legal mumbo-jumbo with the current Chinese traders in the Chinese market of Shanghai which has a potential of over 10 tons of miraa per day," he said in a statement.
Munjuri explained that khat may also be prized in China for its medicinal virtues.
Kenya\’s top export market is Somalia with eight to 12 tons a day, while four to six tons are flown to London and two tons to Amsterdam five days a week.
Munjuri said the drive to export khat to China was aimed at countering attempts by an "exporters cartel" to control supply to Europe.
He also acknowledged that the political and security turmoil in neighbouring Somalia meant there was little prospect for further growth.
"Somalia is a traditional market and we are quite comfortable there… but those Islamic religious people often intercept and destroy deliveries. These are the collaterals of business," he told AFP.
Khat is classified by the World Health Organisation as a drug of abuse that can produce psychological dependence.