Shukri al-Furais to YT:”YR 360 billion is the annual expenditure on qat, there’s no official reaction.” [Archives:2004/781/Community]

October 14 2004

Interviewed by Abdulqawi Shu'lan and Nuriah Naji Hamoud
For the Yemen Times

Shukri al-Furais, is a man who has chosen a difficult path that he believed. His road has not been trodden yet this road is haunted by the suffering of the whole of society that is harmed everyday by what it plants, and chews – absorbing the substances of leaves' into bodies. The substances may include all kinds of poisons and diseases that the world may not know about.
Shukri al-Furais, Head of the Association of Fighting the Dangers of Qat, though being engaged in many works, thinks that his works are not considered actual tasks unless they're mixed with national responsibility. All the cares and worries of our community are a chain, related rings. Our country are not developed but by the healthy community that gets rid of all diseases and dangers.
Qat is a danger that destroys our homeland and diminishes our chances for development, which we hope to mirror universal development. The Yemen Times ran the following interview with Shukri al-Furais, in his office in Ghee and Soap Company in Taiz, on the occasion of the 6th anniversary of the association's establishment.

Q: The Association of Fighting the Dangers of Qat is celebrating its 6th anniversary, how do you assess its achievements concerning eliminating the dangers of qat?
A: In fact, we are not satisfied with what we have achieved during the last six years in terms of awareness. However, comparing it to our limited capabilities, we have achieved something in the controversy we've made among people. Qat was a red line in the past as if it was a precept. Qat is 700 years old, so it is not easy to uproot it in six years.

Q: Why is it called Association of Fighting Dangers of Qat not Fighting Qat itself?
A: When we approved the by-law of the society, we didn't want to get into an unplanned confrontation with qat. Therefore we suggested naming its dangers only in the beginning, and in the coming meeting of the administrative staff we will reconsider the name. Anyway the core or the content is always more important.

Q: Governments have gone without doing anything and others avoided facing qat, what is Shukri al-Furais able to do then?
A: I'm Yemeni and I love my home. I hate to see it deteriorating. My feeling of the responsibility towards my home makes me concerned with its sufferings. All of us are responsible and each one has a role regardless of social and materialistic position, because it is the homeland of all of us. All should do something against this threat, including the preacher, teacher, doctor and men of state.

Q: The members or advocates of the association are 960 within 6 years. Isn't this number below expectations?
A: The quantity doesn't concern us as much as the quality does; fifty active members can do a lot of work and the door is open for the non-members too, because it is the responsibility of all 20 million Yemenis.

Q: Is it true that most of the members chew qat?
A: This rumor was raised against us, the Administrative Staff. The work is voluntary; there is no materialistic benefit in it. Therefore we give membership to effective elements only.

Q: The association concentrates in its programs on the youth or students, don't you think that you should target addicted chewers of qat?
A: We work to protect them from qat because it is too difficult to convince the heavy addicted chewers. But we find unfortunately that our children chew qat. And some fathers compel their children to chew.

Q: Is there senselessness to see that qat is chewed to that extent?
A: Yes. Perhaps Qat caused this senselessness but passive apathy in dealing with qat is dangerous.

Q: It is said that Holland threatened in the past to stop aid granted to Yemen, is that right?
A: Not only Holland but there are some other countries, even the World Bank talks about agricultural land and water that are wasted in planting qat. The lands that are suitable for agriculture are 5 million hectares while what is used is only a million hectares.
The studies that was presented in the Yemeni Loaf Symposium, in the past and present proved that Yemeni production of sorghum doesn't exceed 180,000 tons, but what is annually imported is more that 2 million tons. This is because the lands are planted with qat.

Q: What are the alternatives to qat?
A: The substitutes are available and they are encouraging, for example, I was in a meeting with the minister of trade, commerce and economy in which we talked about planting sunflower instead. The results were excellent since it is universally demanded and can be planted around the year. In addition, it is used as chicken food and its consumption of water is modest compared to bananas or other crops. Olive oil is also another alternative; it succeeded in Jabal Saber and in Al-Mahweet. Why doesn't the government then encourage farmers to plant these substitute plants? Why doesn't media play its role? How long will Yemeni people stay in the numb status of consuming this cursed tree? If the government doesn't deal with qat, failure will be its legacy for qat is the source of all problems in this country. We should change ourselves in order not to let others change us.

Q: Studies confirm that qat has a relation with cancer, what is the role of the association in raising awareness among people in this respect?
A: Cancer cases in Yemen are continuously increasing, the cause of that is qat and dangerous insecticides. There are other diseases caused by qat such as gum disease, teeth decay and kidneys pains.

Q: What is the level of official interaction with the association?
A: Unfortunately, there isn't any official interaction. We don't expect an official who chews qat to cooperate with us. Only Sheik Mohammed Ahmed al-Haj who recently gave up chewing qat helps us.

Q: At the time the association started there were five qat markets, now there are twenty. What is the level of coordination between the association and the local authority?
A: There's no coordination, because the members of the administrative staff are busy with their work but we try to communicate with the authorities while qat markets are open all day in every street.

Q: What are the annual expenses on buying qat?
A: Studies report that annual expenditure is US $ 6 million, that equals YR 360 billion. It is a great figure in a country that is considered one of the poorest countries in the world.

Q: How do you reply to someone who says that qat is bought and sold locally with the Yemeni currency?
A: This is idle talk. That's the catastrophe, it's all based on the local consumption! If it was exported, that would be another matter, but nobody would import Yemeni qat because it is treated with insecticides.

Q: Does your voice reach all areas of Yemen, or you are isolated to Taiz city, in a quest to make it a “City without Qat”?
A: We work wherever our voice can reach.

Q: What are the difficulties that you encounter? Have you ever felt that you're swimming against the current?
A: The absence of official interaction is one of the problems we face. Concerning the second part of your question, since the first day, we have been feeling that we are swimming against the current, but this situation increases the challenge for us.

Q: There were many successive decisions concerning chewing qat, why have all of them disappeared?
A: Because they are random decisions approved while chewing qat. Therefore they can easily disappear. Any one can issue a decision but there must be a strategy for implementing, as well as observing obedience to it. The decision of changing the work days, for example was a failure; it makes people chew on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Q: Do you expect a member of the association to be a member of the upcoming parliament?
A: This topic is in the association's agenda, we'll discuss it.

Q: 'We complain of qat but we like it', the Prime Minister said. Do we truly complain of qat and love it at the same time?
A: Unfortunately yes. That's what was said by that official in the government, though it was supposed that qat was at the top of the government's agenda. But he was joking when he said that in the first national conference about qat. I attended that conference, and I think that was his individual attitude.

Q: Have you ever chewed qat?
A: Yes. I chewed qat like my mates many years ago but I thank God who restored me to health from what ills others.

Q: Do you have a message to deliver? To whom?
A: Qat is the first problem of Yemen and each one, young or old, male or female, should play a role from the religious and national perspective. The government should also make its decisions effective in this respect. Qat is a dangerous challenge thus it's a must to eradicate and revolt against it like the Imamate and the occupation. All the achievements like the revolution, unification and the Mareb Dam should be crowned by uprooting qat.

Q: Finally, are you sure that your children will be against qat?
A: I hope so. I work to protect my children and my family from qat.