Miraa Production Process

Miraa from Kenya as known today in the local and international markets is grown mainly on the slopes of the Nyambene hills in the Eastern Province of Kenya. Here, it is both an ancestral crop having invaluable significance in traditional customary practices and now has become an economic mainstay for the locals and traders.

Miraa seedlings result from root propagation whereby the root of the main plant sprouts out of the ground as a new plant. This is cut off and planted as an independent Miraa plant.

Also there are branches mainly sprouting from the base of the mature trees. These are plucked off and planted to grow as new Miraa plants.

A young Miraa plant (‘Muthairo’)

Mature Miraa tree over 50 years old “Mbaine”
A Miraa farm
The young plants are tendered for, for three to five years at which period they are pruned and the branches spread out as necessary into an umbrella style. The twigs that grow on these spread branches are what are harvested as Miraa.
Miraa twigs on a branch of Mbaine Miraa tree.

When the twigs grow to the required length (10-15cm for Kisa and longer for Kangeta) which is normally within 14 – 21 days for young Miraa plants and longer for older plants, they are harvested.

The harvesting of raw Miraa is done before 5AM.

This raw unprocessed Miraa, direct from the farms is called “Mbobua”. The twigs are tied into bundles called “itundu”. These are further bundled together into bigger bundles of ten each and the big bundles are called “ibunda”.

The packed “Mbobua” is taken to the market normally called Mbobua markets where traders buy it to go process, pack, package and sell off. Mbobua is normally selling in markets by 6AM every day. The raw Miraa markets are many in Igembe and Ntonyiri Constituencies. They include Kimongoro, Athiru Gaiti, Maua, Kaelo, Muringene, Laare, Mutwati, etc.

Once the traders buy the “Mbobua”, they take it to their stores for sorting (removal of excess leaves (deleafing), tying into very small bundles (nguba – 2-4 twigs during dry season and 6-8 sticks for Kangeta during rainy season. For Kisa, 8-10 sticks and 12-14 sticks respectively), tying a number of ngubas together into a bigger bundle called suruba and tying a number of surubas together into a bigger bundle called itundu or kilo.

Miraa grading and packing in progress

Each itundu is wrapped in a banana leaf (the wild banana leaf serves as preservation packaging) and then bundled once more into bundles of ten each called kibunda.

The ibunda (many kibunda) are packed into sacks lined with more wild-banana leaves. The sacks are then sewn closed and collected for delivery to Maua or Muringene for inspection by the owners. The Miraa accepted here is loaded into waiting pick ups for transport to markets.

Transportation of the Miraa from Maua to Nairobi / Mombasa / Mandera

If it is for local markets it is transported to Majengo or Eastleigh in Nairobi or Kongowea in Mombasa where it is sold to retailers and or collected by the owners for sale in shops (kiosks) or for further transport to other townships countrywide or to neighboring countries. If it is for export, it is delivered to individual owner’s stores mainly around the Eastleigh area of Nairobi where it is repacked for export and transported to the JKIA for airlift.

The unit of sale for this processed Miraa is the Kibunda for the wholesale markets of Maua, Muringene, Nairobi, Laare, Mutwati and Kongowea and itundu and suruba for the retail markets. The export orders are also supplied as per kibunda and the retail markets deal in itundu and or carton quantities.

The chain of distribution for Miraa is lengthy. It starts with the real Miraa farmers who own the land on which they have planted Miraa trees. For many in this lot, the farms have been leased by middlemen under a system called ‘mainga’ where the middlemen give the farmers a lump sum of money for a specified number of harvests.

With time the farmer runs out of money before the lease expires and goes to the same or new middlemen for more money against extension of the lease or new lease above the existing one. The mainga then literally run into years. Ideally then the farmers have no say in the farms besides tendering for the plants and doing intercropping.

These middlemen are either kiosk owners in Miraa retail markets or are dealers in the wholesale markets or have orders from the exporters. Those who are retailers or wholesalers load their Miraa into pickups for transport to Majengo or Kongowea from where it is collected for delivery to the kiosks or sold in the wholesale markets or transported further upcountry.

For those with orders from exporters, the Miraa is delivered to the agents of the exporters by their appointed subagents in Maua or Muringene where the agents inspect it for quality and quantity. It is then loaded into pickups for carriage to the exporters stores in Nairobi for repacking for export.

Packing Miraa for Export

Repacking for export normally involves untying all the itundu from the banana leaves, removing poor quality twigs, retying through the process again into itundu, wrapping with a serviette first then a wild banana leaf secured with a banana back fibre and packing into cartons 50 itundu (kilos) for Kangeta destined to Holland market and 40 itundu for Kangeta destined to the London market. The number of pieces per carton for kisa varies – normally its 50 itundu (are too small) for Holland market and 15 – 20 itundu (are big) for London market. These cartons are then taken by taxis or the pickups to JKIA for uplift normally by KLM to AMS and KQ to LHR. Other air-carriers are Ms, Martinair, ET, Das Air and Morgan Air (out of Mombasa).

Miraa ready in cartons for export

For the Somalia market the Miraa is not packed as itundu. It is retained as ibunda packed in sacks as per order. These are loaded on to Land Cruisers which transport the same to Wilson Airport in Nairobi from where the Miraa is uplifted by charter flights to safe areas of Somalia.

The rest goes by road to Garrisa and Mandera from where it crosses the border into Somalia and the bulk s consumed within the Northern Frontier District.

The Somali bound Miraa is normally delivered from the farms to Maua in the evening. It leaves Maua in a convoy between 7:00 pm for that by road and around midnight for that to Wilson. The aircrafts to Somali leave Wilson the next day at around 5-8 A.M and the Miraa is in markets by midday.

Police sniffer dog in action to prevent contraband being put in miraa for export X-raying miraa for export to prevent any contraband
Palletized miraa ready for carriage by air

London, Holland Amsterdam and Mogadishu markets are the major hubs that serve as centers of distributing Miraa to other consuming areas such as Djibouti, Ethiopia and Yemen from the Mogadishu hub and rest of Europe, Far East and the West for Amsterdam and London hubs.

The supply chain is based on kinship after the farmer. Thus a relative in London will order Miraa from a close relative in Nairobi who will inturn send another relative with money to Maua to buy Miraa. It is quite closed and difficult to penetrate. Payments for local Miraa transactions is by bank deposit nowadays as opposed to the past when the money used to be ferried by the Miraa pickups to Maua.

For exported Miraa, payment for Miraa is by the “Hawala money transfer system”.

The quantity of Miraa supplied daily from Nyambene is not officially known as the Miraa unit of measurement (kilo/itundu/kibunda) is not equivalent to the SI Kilo for locally consumed Miraa.

This also applies for Miraa entering Somali, Tanzania and Uganda.

For the Miraa that is exported through Wilson and JKIA and Moi in Mombasa, the exact weight in metric tones is known and may be retrieved from concerned authorities like KEPHIS and HCDA

Also through JKIA, small quantities of Miraa are uplifted to Zambia –Lusaka, Malawi, Johanesburg – S.A. and DRC Lubumbashi.