Yemen to Curb Qat Use, Cultivation

December 15, 2012

 Qat is often smuggled to Kenyan communities in the West, especially in Britain, where it is sold in well-known areas of London. Yemen’s parliament issued a statement declaring that the proposed law seeks to consolidate and coordinate official and popular efforts to reduce the incidence of Qat use and to raise social awareness of the negative health, economic, educational, social and moral effects that arise from chewing it. It will also attempt to protect children, youth and women from developing a dependence on Qat.

A report released this past October revealed that Yemenis spend nearly $4 billion per year on Qat, equivalent to 778 billion Yemeni Riyals. This sum includes the cigarettes, water, soft drinks and all the other requirements of Qat sessions since, as the study notes, around seven million Yemenis chew Qat and smoke cigarettes while doing so.

The law the parliament is seeking to pass would seek to protect Yemeni society from the dangers of excessive Qat use, while gradually introducing measures to address those dangers and their consequences. This is to be accomplished by gradually putting a halt to the cultivation and abuse of Qat, as well as by offering suitable financial compensation and technical training to Qat farmers who abandon the crop.

The reason Qat cultivation has spread across wide swaths of Yemen stems directly from the high profits from the trade.

According to the draft of the proposed law, social support and medical assistance will be provided in cases where individuals are suffering from illness resulting from Qat consumption. People will be encouraged to cease using Qat, whether gradually or immediately.

Also according to the draft law, they will be provided with counseling and guidance, as well as a clear explanation of the dangers of excessive Qat use. It will guarantee economic alternatives to Qat and provide for the cultivation of other varieties of plants.

The Yemeni Ministry of Agriculture considers Qat to be a real threat to the country’s farmland. It notes indications that coffee cultivation has declined significantly during the last five years, whereas the amount of farmland allotted to Qat cultivation has increased by a factor of 18 in the last 30 years.

The amount of land used for Qat cultivation has been estimated at 250,000 hectares, consuming around 128 million cubic meters of Yemen’s total water resources. Yemen’s available water resources are estimated at around 1 billion cubic meters of clean water.

Qat is a plant that grows in Yemen and Ethiopia and is widely believed to have originated in the latter and migrated to the former during the 15th century. It is also grown in the al-Fifa mountains. Its scientific name is catha edulis, from the Celastraceae family.

It grows in the form of shrubs between two and five meters in height. Its color is greenish brown with a slight degree of red, and its leaves are oval and pointed. The leaves are plucked and chewed while the plant is still young — no more than a few days or weeks old at the most. The first person to name the plant and scientifically classify it was the Swedish botanist Peter Foch School.

The origins of this plant are unknown. There have, however, been a number of studies that suggest it came originally from Ethiopia. The English Orientalist Richard Francis Burton wrote that it came to Yemen in the 15th century.

Qat has been observed to have the following side effects:

  •     Difficulty urinating, involuntary seminal discharge after urination, as well as erectile dysfunction
  •     Excess blood-sugar levels and increased risk of diabetes
  •     Reduced blood protein levels, which in turn stunts growth and can lead to users developing emaciated and weakened bodies
  •     Indigestion and loss of appetite
  •     Increased risk of mouth and jaw cancer