Executive Summary The Socioeconomic, Agricultural and Environmental Implication of Qat Production/Consumption in Yemen [Archives:2002/03/Reportage]

January 14 2002

Dr. Mahasen Al-Munibari

Qat (Catha Edulis Fosrk) is an evergreen plant belonging to the Celastraceae family, and was first described in Yemen by a Swedish botanist. It is believed by many that qat was originally introduced to Yemen from Ethiopia in the 15th century.
The upper leaves are used for chewing, usually in the afternoons for about 5-6 hours. Each person consumes about 400-500gm of green leaves. Qat contains cathninon with amphetamine-like action. Excessive consumption presumable leads to addiction.
Many researchers claim that qat brings about confusion, reduces the desire for cohabitation and food, and causes dehydration and spermatiorrhea to the chewers. Others express its pleasurable and stimulating effects.
In Yemen cultivation of qat is taking over the most productive agricultural land and Yemen has a very limited arable land (1.66 million ha) which constitute about 3% of the country land surface. Qat production also consumes scarce water resources. Qat consumes more water than any other crop in Yemen. In Yemen there are 40,000 ha under irrigation systems including 250 tube-wells and spring irrigated lands, and 15,000 ha of spate-irrigated lands.
Qat occupies about 19,400 ha of the most fertile and tube-well irrigated land
Qat production also contains unregulated use of pesticides and fertilizers. In addition, improper selection of pesticides and their overuse has exposed qat consumers to environmental health hazards.
The socioeconomic implication of qat production/consumption are immense, and the most important, among others, these, are replacement of the traditional crops by Qat, loss of cultural traditional value as a sequence of qat consumption, prevention of children from attending schools as a result of engagement in domestics chores during qat sessions.
The government of Yemen has taken policy and regulatory measures to address these problems, however, the problem still prevails. Hence the need to generate more information based on which specific and realistic policy and regulatory measures could be taken.
The general objective of the project is to assess and as socioeconomic, agricultural and environmental implications of qat production and consumption in order to facilitate and networking around qat and to have an input on government policy on the matter.
The specific objectives include to review the available literature on all aspect of qat in order to identify gaps like knowledge; to study the socioeconomic implications of qat production and consumption; to study the agricultural and environmental implications of qat production; to facilitate discussion among stakeholders around prospective of qat based on the result of the research; to generate issues and guidelines towards policy formulation concerning qat production and consumption; and to facilitate public awareness around the issue through publications, networking, and the use of the mass media.
A team of researchers made up of socio economist, an agricultural expert, and experts in environmental issue and a policy expert carried out the research activities under the umbrella of the Environment Protection Council of Yemen.
The general methodology employed comprised networking with concerned groups, literature review, structure interview, questionnaires, administration, field observations and workshops.
In the socio-economic studies, in order to assess prevalence of qat chewing amongst the Yemeni population, and also to find who in the family is a primarily qat chewer, questionnaires were administered to 3402 urban families (27,884 member) and 1455 rural families (16,287 members)
Questionnaires were administered in qat growing areas (Taiz, Hodeidah, Sanaa), to areas where qat is not grown (Aden) and to an area where qat is recently introduced (Sayoon). Specific studies on qat consumption covered 100 rural and 100 urban families, a total of 200 families in five regions of Yemen, namely Aden, Hodeidah, Sanaa, Taiz and Sayoon. Additional people were interviewed in various part of the country to generate data on various socio-economic aspects of qat consumption.
The agricultural and environmental studies covered 10 rural and 10 urban families each in five regions of the country namely Aden, Hodeidah, Sanaa, Taiz and Sayoon, to whom questionnaires were administered.
Groups discussions and individual interviews were in all aspects of the research including the policy component.
Socio-economic components
Chewing qat is very common in Yemen. Out of 44,171 people interviewed in both urban and rural areas in five regions (Aden, Taiz, Sanaa, Hodeidah, and Sayoon) about 26.7% chew qat.
Qat chewing is commonplace in cities located in Qat growing areas compared to non-qat-growing cities: 32%, 29%, 31.5%, 23% of the interviews people chew qat in taiz, Sanaa, Hodeida and Aden respectively. Sanaa and Taiz are qat growing areas while Aden and Hodeidah are not. Proportionally less number of people (7%) chew qat in Sayoon where the habit of chewing qat was lately introduced. The proportion of qat chewers in urban areas of these places are somewhat similar with the setting in cities.
There are differences in the proportion of male and female qat chewers. Considering both rural and urban dwellers covered by the study in Sanaa, Aden, Taiz, Sayoon, and Hodeidah, in 4857 families, 60% of the fathers and about 30% of the mothers chew Qat. As far as the young members of families more boys (30%) chew qat compared with girls (about 13%).
A significant portion of members of the same families considered chewing qat to be a good habit (about 30%) while about 20% considered it to be bad; many felt that it was neither good nor bad.
Many of the interviewees were government employees and relied on their salaries for the purchase of qat leaves while others depend on other financial sources (private, non-government).
More specific studies involving only 10% families from each of the cities and surrounding rural areas in five regions; i.e. Sanaa, Aden, Taiz Sayoon and Hodeidah, a total of 200 families revealed that qat chewing was much more commonplace than the layer survey indicated. In the cities 74% of fathers, 44% of the mothers chew qat; within the same families in 60% of the areas both mothers and fathers. The figure is higher in the rural setting being 86% for fathers, 75% for mothers and 71% for both.
In the families covered by the specific studies about 45% of male and 23% of females chew qat on a daily basis.
Qat chewers stated that they chewed qat to spend their free time (34.4%), enjoy qat chewing (28.4%), and some (27.6%) stated that they did it to socialize with friends; and also to do business.
School boys and girls gave slightly different reasons than their parents for chewing qat. Boys claimed that chewing qat helped them in their studies. While the commonest response in the case of girls was that it provided them with an opportunity to meet friends.
Based on the responses of families enrolled in the specific studies, there appears to be no relationship between the level of education of the chewer of qat and the habit of chewing, both in urban and rural areas.
Qat chewing was more common (about 35%) in adults and grownup young (16-45 yrs) compared with youth (9-15 yrs) of whom about 20% chew qat and less proportion (about 14%) of the older group (46-65 yrs) chew qat; less than 10% above 65 years chew qat. The proportion were similar in both rural and urban dwellers.
Most people preferred to chew qat after mid-day (64%) while fewer (23%) preferred to chew it in the afternoon (80.5%). Still fewer (13%) preferred to chew it in the morning hours before midday.
High proportion (about 45%) of male qat chewers preferred to chew qat for 6 hours in one go, and the rest 27.4%; 14.5%, 9.6% and 35% preferred to chew qat for 4 hours, 8 hours, more than 8 hours and 2 hours, respectively. On the other hand female qat chewers preferred to chew 2 hours (30%), 4 hours (24.2%) 6 hours (13.4%) 8 hours (12.8%) and more than 8 hours (13.4%). It appears that female cannot afford as much time as men for chewing qat.
Qat is purchased by either male or female members of the family or both. In some places more of the burden falls on men while in others it is the reverse.
A high proportion of the families income is used for the purchase of qat. In low income families (10,000 20,000 YR/month) about 41.8%, 25.2%, 7.8% and 6.2% is spend on food, qat, health and education, respectively. The remainder is used for miscellaneous expenses. The amount spent on qat is on the average about 4 times, as much as that spent on health or education, independently.
The prices of qat vary depending on the season, as well as how fast it is delivered to the market. Of course, the most important is the quality which apparently depends on the type and where it is grown.
Often qat is sold through middle men bidders who buy the production from farmers and sell it to the whole-sellers who in turn sell it to retailers. Hence qat trade engages several layers of traders.
The total area under qat cultivation is about 100,000 ha distributed mainly in Sanaa, Dhamar, Hajjah, and Taiz governorates where 90% of the qat in Yemen is produced. Qat is planted 30-50 cm apart in Dhamar and 1-m apart in Sanaa area. Weeding is usually done by hand. Pests include scole insects, caterpillars and termites. Pesticides are used to control these pests. The use of traditional methods such as dusting are also reported. Disease of qat tree has not been reported to date.
Harvesting generally start 1-2 years after plantation. Qat production per hectare ranges between 1-3 tons per annum.
Qat is best grown in areas 1000 2000 masl, however in Yemen it is cultivated in areas with a wide altitudinal range, 800 2600 masl. It grows best in Enstisol soil, and this soil type is dominant in Yemens agricultural land areas which are suitable for coffee and grape cultivation.
The quality of qat if clarified based on its origin and the time of harvest Qat produced in Wadi Duhr and Dulaa for the Sanaa market is considered of good quality, while the production of Bani Hashaysh and Bani Matter is considered of medium quality. The low quality production for the Sanaa market comes from al-Haimh and Haraz. It is apparent that the cooler and drier the area of producing qat the better the quality of qat is.
Qat collected during the first harvest is considered of low quality, while the second and the third is the finest. Qat harvested from branches are considered of low grade while harvest from the tips of the main stems are considered of high quality.
Qat is cultivated as good crops with high returns by all the farmers interviewed. In addition, it has requires low labor, as well as water requirements compared with either coffee or grapes.
Qat is considered a good cash crop not only that the economic returns are high but also its production is controlled. By controlling the irrigation schedule farmers can harvest as much or as little depending on their cash needs.
Agricultural practices:
Horticultural practices in qat production vary from one qat producing area to another. In Sanaa share cropping is often used, 25% gres to the land level, 25% to cover cost of water, the rest (50%) to the sharecropper.
In Sanaa area 100 gm of organic fertilizer is used per tree 2-3 times a year. Qat fields are irrigated 5-7 times/year; and heavy pumping (cutting the parts above ground) every 3-4 years.
Qat is harvested three times a year, 1st in January February, 2nd in May June, and third in August September.
Qat has replaced grapes in the Sanaa area and coffee in places such as Haraz, Bani Matter, al-Haima, and cereals in areas where the rainfall is 600mm/annual or higher.
Based on profit from agricultural production, qat stands first followed by grapes, peaches and pomegranates. Based on cost of production, farmers railing is grapes followed by qat, tomato, watermelon, peaches and pomegranates in Aden.
In Dammar area, inline Sanaa area after mauance is applied on qat farms. Qat agriculture depends mainly on rain water supplemented by water from wells during the dry season.
Qat harvesting is done 2-5 matting after plenty, 6-8 harvests could be obtained per annum. Within the Dhamar area qat types and quality differ from one district to another.
In the Taiz area qat production depends mainly on rainfall. The majority of farmers are sharecroppers where 1/3 goes to the farmers, 1/3 covers costs of water and 1/3 goes to the landlord.
All pesticides available in the market are applied not only to control pests but also to promote growth. Irrigation frequency increases with age of plants, on average it is once every month. The use of fertilizers is very common.
In hajjah area, qat production is concentrated in mountain terraces. The farmers apply manure once a year in January. Farmers bring soil to qat field every 2-3 years.
Qat is grown under rained condition, however supplemental irrigation is applied. Qat is harvested 2-6 times per year.
Qat marketing
Qat is usually marketed to the closest cities and towns.
Each type of qat has its local market. Introducing a different kind of qat to a different market is very difficult.
Qat marketing is distinguished by the need to get the product to market as fresh as possible; after it takes 5-14 hours from field to customer.
In the past, qat was traded be the Ahl al-sug traders. At the present time, qat farmers market their crop directly. Very often qat is marketed by brokers called Mugawatun.
There are various venues for selling qat. Mugawatun who often have their own transportation means can bring labors to farms, harvest the qat and then sell it directly to customers. Consumers, may directly, buy there qat from farmers, especially when farmers are in close proximity to urban concentrations. Farmers may sell their production in local markets, or they may sell it to Mugawatun through middle men museleh.
In order to avoid loses, most qat traders buy and sell small quantities; hence qat does not land itself to market concentration or monopoly tendencies.
The main factors that determine the price of qat are the reputation and location; appearance (the brighter the better); and season in the year.
Qat Economy
It is estimated that qat sales amount to USD765 million per year constituting 20% of GDP; and 50% of the rest of agriculture put together. It is believed that qat sales are under taxed.
The total cost of production is usually no more than 30-50% of the sales proceeds. The average net profits range from YR400,000 1,800,000 per hectare every year.
The economic and the environmental impacts is very different between rained/water harvesting system and ones which are primarily dependent on ground water. In rained areas qat is an ideal crop because of its high value and farmable environmental characteristics. It is less profitable in irrigated systems, even though qat is such a profitable crop that it can justify irrigation. Qat is profitable even when the water for irrigation use is tracked 20 km to the qat fields.
Traditional cereal production has been abandoned because of expensive labor and low prices of grains; planting qat saves the soil, as well as the rural economy. Qat is a powerful agent for urban transferring cash from urban to rural areas. It is estimated that about 200,000 families in Yemen benefit from qat.
The environmental impacts of qat vary between rain/water harvesting system and where irrigation is used. In rained areas there is no negative impact, while in areas where irrigation is used, qat is balanced for depleting scarce groundwater resources.
The main cause of the depletion of ground water is the continued increment in population and the expansion of intensive irrigated agriculture, primarily for qat production.
There is little rainfall in the country varying between 50-160 mm in the eastern provinces to more than 800 mm in the central highlands.
The government plays no role in the monitoring and supervision of ground water use. The abstraction of ground water is more than the recharge. The cases of accessibilities and support provided for its use has enhanced the ground water traction problem.
Amongst the crops grown in Yemen, the water requirements are higher for banana, followed by coffee. Cotton, qat and tobacco have similar requirements which are less than coffees. Maize, onion, tomato, wheat have lower requirements.
Since the introduction of pesticides in Yemen, their use has been slowly but steadily increasing. However, the overall use is still relatively low in comparison with other countries in the region.
Yemeni farmers do not know how to properly use pesticides owing to the low level of their education. About 80% of the framers interviewed do not know the broad name let alone its consumption of the pesticides they use. In some places pesticides are used to promote plant growth.
Pesticides input increased from 730 tons in 1994 to 1866 tons in 1996. These figures do not include the pesticides brought into the country through illegal channels.
Pesticides have become an essential component of qat retailing. In the recent years plastic bags which are used to keep the qat fresh in market places has become an essential element in the marketing of qat. Plastic bottles are used as water containers; water is continuously used in qat chewing process. The preponderance of plastic associated with qat consumption has negatively affected the environment.
Qat has negatively effected the consumers health. It harms the liver. It is presumed to be the cause of esophageal cancer. It raises blood pressure, as well as heart beats.