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Story Za Jaba

Catha edulis. It is a commercially important plant whose young leaves and stems are chewed as a psychostimulant in East Africa and some Arabian countries such as Afghanistan and Yemen.

It is a slow growing shrub that attains a height ranging from 1 to 5 meters. However, it can reach up to 10m in equatorial areas. The plant grows in arid environment where the temperatures range from 5 to 35 degrees Celsius. Other than access to sunlight and water, it requires very little maintenance. It has evergreen leaves which are between 5 to 10 centimetres long and 1 to 4 centimetres wide. Other names include Bushman’s tea, Abyssinian tea, flour of paradise, Miraa, Mayirungi, Muguka, Jaba etc.

Origin and Geographical location

In Kenya, Catha edulis is grown majorly in Embu and Meru counties. There exists an elaborate classification of the crop based on characteristics such as stem/leaf colour, size, shape as well as potency levels.

In Meru, there are five categories namely Kiraa Gikiiru, Kigwe, Muchuri, Kithara and Kilantune. In Embu there exists six traditional classifications namely; Muguka, Kibwe, Muti-mutiri, Mugumo, Mugwathingi and Gitu.

A legend has it that in Kenya, this crop has its origin as Nyambene. A farmer discovered that his goats were very intoxicated and wake after consuming the said plant a move that made him take some leaves, tried them and upon feeling nice, he took some with him at home for cultivation.

Market in Diaspora

The trade of C. edulis material occurs openly in Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda and Yemen but it is illegal in Tanzania, Eritrea, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Zambia. Somalia has the highest consumers of khat consumers in the world with Kenya being her main supplier. 

The most adverse effects of chewing C. edulis include: insomnia, anorexia, hyperthermia, mydriasis, endocrinological disturbances and acute autonomic responses such as elevated blood pressure and tachycardia.

During recruitments to the Kenya Defence Forces, many youths who have discoloured teeth are rejected by recruiting officers citing the problem to have arisen from the Muguka chewing habit. However, it should be noted that there is a vast majority of people who have discoloured teeth who have never tasted the plant. Many times, this happens due to consumption of water with a lot of fluorides. Could be Muguka is not the primary cause of tainting the teeth, the farmer might have irrigated the crop with fluoridated water.
A KDF recruitment underway. /FILE

What is Good for a Goose is Good for Gander

It is held that Muguka is the main cash crop among Wakamba and Wambeere community who inhabit the regions where it is vastly grown. On its peak season a kilogram of Muguka can fetch up to KSh 1500, whereas during off peak, the prices drop up to Ksh 50 per kilogram.

Majority of farmers prefer to grow Muguka then use the revenue gained from sales to purchase food crops and in tackling other financial problems. Majority of households in Mbeere grow this crop and they believe it is through it there has mushroomed trading centres such as Kiritiri, Muraru and Meka.

 In 2021 Muguka farmers in Embu County received KSh 53 million to improve their production. Politicians and professionals in the region own vast plantations along Tana River tributaries river banks citing it as real hustle and tangible job.

Geographically, this crop can do very well in areas where mangoes do well, it is time Ukambani and Tana River counties embraced this economic activity before it is patented by those already growing it.


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