By Gabriella Nashiva

In the picturesque landscapes of Mount Kenya muguka farming has blossomed into a thriving industry painting the fields with vibrant shades of green. This leafy plant known for its stimulating properties when chewed, has captured the attention of both local and international markets, creating economic opportunities for farmers and traders alike. The success of muguka farming is evident in the story of Mr. Chomba Mwaniki, a proud and prosperous muguka farmer who has witnessed the transformative power of this “green gold.”

“I left employment 7 years ago and I do not regret it. I used to work as a marketer in milling companies. Muguka has bought
land for me, built a home for me and I am able to run my business and take care of my family comfortably” said Mwaniki.

As the popularity of muguka grows, questions arise about its impact on food security and the challenges posed by climate change. What aspects influence muguka farming, its economic significance, impact on food security, environmental challenges, cultural importance, and untapped potential for value addition and technology?

Muguka farming has emerged as a highly profitable venture, surpassing the earnings of its counterpart, miraa. With a maturity time of just six months, muguka can be harvested weekly. In contrast, miraa requires monthly harvesting. The high demand for muguka has resulted in a significant client base, expanding the market reach for farmers. Mwaniki supplies muguka to markets in Mombasa, Malindi, and Garissa counties, but the supply does not meet the soaring demand.

“With one acre of muguka that is ready to harvest, you earn approximately, Sh50,000. In a month, that is Sh200,000, minus expenses incurred, you have approximately, Sh150,000. In four months, you have Sh600,000. In the same four months, on the same 1-acre shamba, you will harvest about 10 ninety kilo bags of maize, let’s say it fetches you Sh150,000, minus expenses incurred you have Sh100,000. That is why muguka is preferred by our people” Mwaniki explains.

Chomba Mwaniki in his Muguka farm in Embu County.

Muguka cultivation provides a valuable source of livelihood for many farmers and traders, contributing to economic stability and employment opportunities. This has caused a shift from food production to muguka cultivation, raising concerns about food security in the region. Mwaniki recognizes this challenge and suggests a potential solution.

“We understand the threat to food security but we are willing to buy maize and other food products from our neighboring counties”, he added.

An idea worth exploring is getting neighboring counties to specialize in different agricultural products to ensure a diversified and robust agricultural sector. Farmers like Mwaniki suggest that by other counties focusing on their strengths and improving the production process, they can increase yields, improve quality, and foster agricultural specialization. This approach can boost economic growth, create employment opportunities, and position Kenya as a global leader in agricultural production while safeguarding food security.

Muguka farming faces challenges related to climate change, particularly the dry seasons that affect water availability. Farmers rely on rivers like Dakutha and Nyamindi for irrigation, but water shortage due to drought can lower muguka yields. To combat this, some farmers are exploring alternative water sources, such as boreholes, despite the high setup costs.

“Muguka needs watering at least every two weeks. Water shortage due to drought causes seasonal rivers like Dakutha to dry up. This lowers the muguka yields. Some farmers are now exploring to supplement this with borehole water, though it is costly to set up the boreholes” Mwaniki points out.

Beyond its economic value, muguka holds a deep cultural significance in Kenya. The fresh, young leaves of the muguka plant are preferred for chewing due to their tender texture and higher concentration of stimulating compounds. Sharing muguka leaves during social gatherings, celebrations, and business negotiations is a common practice that fosters unity, conversation, and bonding. This cultural tradition strengthens social connections, serves as a symbol of hospitality, and preserves the heritage.

Muguka farms contribute positively to the environment, acting as a bulwark against soil erosion and conserving water resources. The dense growth and extensive root systems of muguka plants help bind the soil together, protecting against wind or water. Muguka farms also exhibit water conservation properties, retaining moisture and minimizing water loss from the soil surface. Moreover, as muguka leaves decompose, they enrich the soil with valuable nutrients, promoting soil health and long-term agricultural productivity.

To fully harness the potential of muguka farming, there is a need to explore value addition and embrace technology. Farmers lack the infrastructure and transportation systems to add value to muguka products or preserve their freshness. Investing in value addition processes and improving transportation methods could unlock new market opportunities, enhance profitability, and establish a more sustainable and resilient muguka industry.

“We do not add any value to the muguka once we harvest, we do not have the infrastructure for
that. Neither do we have transportation that keeps the highly perishable treasure fresh for long hence
our well-known rushed transportation system”, Mwaniki concluded.

Muguka farming has transformed the agricultural landscape in Kenya, offering economic stability, employment opportunities, and cultural significance to farmers and traders. While the industry faces food security and climate change challenges, muguka farms contribute positively to the environment through soil preservation and water conservation. By embracing innovation, technology, and value addition, Kenya can fully tap into the potential of muguka farming, leading to increased market opportunities and a more sustainable and prosperous industry.