A boom in qat in Ethiopia and Kenya

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Will this burgeoning green business turn to bust?
Jan 21st 2017 | CHUKO AND MAUA

Qat, a tonic?
THIS is qat,” explains Teklu Kaimo, gesturing to the wooded field behind him. He started growing it in 1976, and over the years its soft, green leaves have brought him a measure of prosperity. He has a modest plot of land, 11 children and money to pay their way through school.

A short walk down the hill, the central marketplace of this part of southern Ethiopia comes alive with farmers, merchants and salesmen as the sun sets. Young men sprint down streets with bundles of fresh qat leaves on their shoulders, as traders call out prices and haul the bags aboard lorries. They are bound for Addis Ababa, the capital, where the following morning they will be sold to qat-chewers in the city, or packed onto planes bound for neighbouring Djibouti and Somaliland.

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Ethiopia’s trade in qat, a mild stimulant native to this part of Africa, is booming. Where once cultivation and consumption were restricted to the Muslim lowlands towards the country’s east, today it is grown and masticated throughout the country. Nearly half a million hectares of land are thought to be devoted to it, some two-and-half times more than was grown 15 years ago. Many of those cultivating it have switched from coffee, Ethiopia’s biggest export, to one that offers juicier and more stable returns. Qat is now the country’s second-largest source of foreign currency, and, with prices rising, a handy source of government revenue.

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The industry’s growth is partly due to increased consumption. Qat kiosks are dotted around all main towns; young men chewing on street corners or in university libraries have become a ubiquitous feature of Ethiopian life. For many, its spread is a symbol of national decline. “It is getting worse by the day,” says Fitsum Zeab, a businessman in Addis Ababa.

Much the same is true in neighbouring Kenya, the region’s second-largest qat producer. Here, too, demand is growing, thanks to a large diaspora of Somalis (the plant’s long-standing international missionaries) and better roads that allow farmers to get perishable qat to market while it is still fresh. And economic importance is translating into political heft: last year Kenya declared it an officially sanctioned cash crop.

But the plight of Maua, a small town considered the Kenyan trade’s epicentre, gives pause for thought. Britain’s decision in 2014 to ban the substance (against the advice of its drugs advisory council, which thought it harmless) slammed the qat economy. In 2013, before the prohibition, Britain imported some £15m-worth ($25m) worth of the stuff. Prices have since fallen by half and unemployment has risen sharply. “Everyone is feeling the pinch now,” says Lenana Mbiti, a former trader.

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That gives pause to Ethiopian farmers too. Although they have been less affected by bans in Europe because they sell most of their crop close to home, they fret that their market will shrink.

Experts doubt that qat will ever become a mass-marketed global commodity like coffee, tea or sugar. Instead, small towns in places such as Wondo-Genet are becoming dependent upon the production and trade of a substance that will probably be outlawed in yet more countries.

Even so, qat’s popularity among farmers persists because it is perhaps the only crop that can provide sufficient income from a small plot of land to support a family. “There is simply nothing else,” says Birhanu Kiamo, Mr Kaimo’s brother, neighbour and fellow qat farmer.

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline “Qatnip”

1 Comment

  1. khat is similar to crack , cocaine , methamphetamine and so on . That is why you see many Ethiopians that were Khat addicted in Ethiopia tend to be addicted to crack cocaine when they come to western countries, since it is easier to find crack cocaine than khat in the western countries such as Americas and Europe.

    Many Ethiopians living in diaspora western countries that became crack heads agree Khat is exactly similar to crack , cocaine , methamphetamine and so on . You don’t see that many Ethiopians being crack heads unless they were used to khat early on. Everything including food and water must be taken in moderation orelse you can die,I heard people that died just for overdosing from water ( for drinking too much water). When it comes to Khat there is noway you can take it with moderation. It takes atleast half a day of constant chewing to feel the effect.

    Once the khat addicts feel the effect fully they go on to drink alcohol and smoke so much marijuana to get rid of the khat effect or they will stay high from khat until they fall ASLEEP. Khat production and exporting business is to blame for the famine 2017. Northern part of Ethiopia converted khat farms into food crop farms that is why no famine is expected in the northern Ethiopia in 2017 while Southern and eastern are still in danger suffering from the famine that lingered to close to three years .

    Majority of the world with modern laboratory facilities made khat illegal even countries that allow alcohol and marijuana legally make sure khat is illegal. in 2014 Stimulant khat banned as illegal class C drug in UK,Possessing khat, a plant used as a stimulant by Somali communities, has been made illegal in the UK.The ban comes after members of Cardiff’s Somali community previously called for khat to be outlawed .
    khat appears to be legal in only 6 countries in the world Holland , Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Yemen. All these 6 countries suffer so much societal , economical and political problems as a direct result of khat evn few business people profit from it. Khat is illegal in Tigrai state in Ethiopia as well but in other parts of Ethiopia it is not illegal because the ruling junta Tigrayans People’s Liberation Front(TPLF) liberated Tigrayans from Khat but TPLF business people as Azeb Mesfin are the number one khat dealers making billions of dollars each year by selling khat . Khat also benefits the ruling junta to enslave Ethiopians. Most of the soldiers and generals such as Samora Yunus in Ethiopia that get sent to kill innocent Ethiopians are khat addicts because the soldiers that are not khat addicted tend to take of their uniforms of and join the protestors rather than killing the protestors but the khat addicted soldiers kill women , babies , elderly , just about anybody without hesitation as long as they don’t get penalized for chewing khat at work. That is why you see Ethiopian military Generals going all night long from the house of a woman with a husband living in exile to ANOTHER house of a WOMAN with a husband LIVING IN AN EXILE . The federal government is always going around khat infested areas like Ogaden and kidnap the youth to make them soldiers . These kidnapped people would submit to the government demands and do anything they are ordered to do as long as they get supplied with khat even if it means killing innocent students.
    Khat chewing has been associated with duodenal ulcer. This effect can be because of the stress that follows khat chewing, the amphetamine-like action of cathine, increased presence of H. pylori , or insecticides and chemicals used for growing the khat plant. This may have been an idiosyncratic reaction to khat. 49Khat-induced anorexia causes a deficient nutritional state that favors infections. Tuberculosis is a particular threat because the chewed residues of the leaves are ejected by spitting and the water pipe is used collectively during a khat session. 10
    Hepatic cirrhosis of unknown etiology has been noted in khat users; poor diet and the potentially hepatotoxic effects of khat tannins may be contributing factors. Two case reports of Fasciola hepatica infection have been attributed to contaminated khat chewing. Human fascioliasis usually occurs from ingesting contaminated watercress, water, or liver. Khat grows especially well in moist conditions and could become contaminated with metacercariae, thus leading to fascioliasis. Khat increases the activity of three brain chemicals:
    • Dopamine—causes a surge in euphoria and increased energy/activity
    • Norepinephrine—increases heart rate and blood pressure, which are particularly risky for people with heart and blood vessel problems
    Serotonin—affects mood, appetite, sleep, and other functions. It also triggers hormones that affect sexual arousal and trust. The release of large amounts of serotonin likely causes the emotional closeness, elevated mood, and empathy felt by those who use MDMA. khat addiction rehab center is set to open in Bishoftu,Oromia. I suggest all famine victims register on this wait list to get treated at this live-in world class addiction treatment center which is expected to accommodate all family members ages 10 and up and replicate itself as time goes on .

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