Written By: Abdul-Aziz Oudah
Article Date: Feb 16, 2010 - 4:40:45 PM
Yemenis spend over $1.2 billion annually on the consumption of Qat, said an official report, released by the Ministry of Agriculture. The continued growth and consumption of Qat within society has become a genuine concern and danger facing a state already challenged with food security, claimed the report.
The report claimed that the government is presently attempting to find an alternative system for the farming and consumption of Qat. It also highlighted the depth of this social phenomenon, and stressed the cost of Qat consumption economically, environmentally and socially.
“The Ministry of Agriculture has begun supporting the farming of Yemeni coffee, nuts and grapes as alternatives crops in the future, specifically because these harvests cost less than Qat and require less consumption of water than Qat,” the report said.
Ali al-Mahbri, an agriculture experts, claimed that although efforts are underway by the Ministry of Agriculture to find substitutes for Qat cultivation, farming Qat has been expending at a remarkable 4,000-6,000 hectares per year.
“Qat cultivation seized 30% of agriculture water. Its consumption and production has continued to rise through the last few years,” al-Mahbri said.
The Yemeni capital of Sana’a has one of the most threatened aquifer groundwater supplies because of the amounts of moisture expended on large crops of Qat within the area.
According to water experts, more than four thousand wells in Sana’a have been specifically dug for the sole purpose of irrigating Qat fields, which has led to a lower water levels of an average of three to six meters a year. Experts warn of drought within the Sana’a area by 2015.
The World Health Organization has listed Qat as a narcotic substance since 1973, after studies proved that Qat contained stimulant properties that affect the nervous system. There is medical suspicion that Qat is a major cause of many diseases prevalent throughout Yemen, particularly cancer. However, much of the dangers of Qat remain intractable, as they plant also contains large amounts of foreign chemicals as a result of random pesticide treatments.
Recently, Yemen and the World Bank (WB) discussed the procedures pertaining to the establishment of a regional centre for Qat in Yemen.
The Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation al-Hawshabi held talks with Senior Institutional Development Specialist, Middle East and North African Region, Julie Viloria-Williams. The meeting emphasized the center’s tasks, focusing on spreading awareness of the significance of reducing the cultivation of Qat in Yemen. The heavy dependence on Qat as a cash crop has became a large obstacle facing agricultural development.
The meeting dealt with the importance of establishing and supporting the centre by the WB as well as its role in propping up the government’s efforts to decrease Qat’s planting and its water depletion.
Al-Hawshabi hailed the WB’s role in supporting the agricultural sector in Yemen and in the promotion of enhancing the role of food security in Yemen. It has underlined the significance of the center as it has spread the awareness of Qat’s risks.
For her part, the WB official noted that the WB is currently preparing studies on identifying the requirements and priorities of establishing an agricultural centre, on which agricultural development in Yemen will depends.
Qat cultivation in Yemen increases yearly at an average of 4,000 to 6,000 hectares. The production and consumption of Qat has increased during the past several years. Qat competes with many food crops, particularly with cash crops such as coffee and cotton. According to the agricultural census data, Yemen’s production of Qat rose from 118,207 tons of a total 122,843 hectares in 2004 to 165,668 tons from 146,810 hectares at the end of 2008.
Yemen also singed a supportive agreement of €7 million destined for the sustainable food security program in Yemen with the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ). A part of this money will go to support the government’s policies to fight Qat cultivation in order to reduce the steady depletion of water resources. The production of Qat utilizes 40 percent of the total water use within Yemen.
The agreement was signed by the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs and Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Abdul-Karim al-Arhabi and the GTZ’s Country Director Thomas Engelhardt.
Al-Arhabi considers the Qat plant to be an economic and social challenge threatening Yemen’s future, specifically the problems created by the limited water supply in Yemen and the loss of productivity associated with Qat. He underscored the necessity of combining the government’s efforts and the contributions of Yemen’s civil society organizations to succeed within the integral program.
He affirmed the importance of enhancing the social awareness channels amid the public to introduce them to the risks associated with Qat.
Country Director of World Bank (WB) Office in Yemen Naji Abu Hatim confirmed the bank’s desire to offer all possible support to enhance Yemen’s efforts at combating Qat cultivation while simultaneously promoting social awareness.
Last April the local government banned the farming of Qat in the Jahran valley of Dhamar, considered one of the largest agriculture areas within Yemen. Efforts from the agricultural ministry in Dhamar had encouraged a number of Qat farmers in Jahran district to uproot the tree, especially after providing them with alternatives and technical support.
Farmers in these villages received improved seeds as well as technical and logistic support, provided by the agricultural office and through the General Authority of Agricultural Researches and Guidance (GAARG) in the governorate.
Despite several fruitful results from these efforts, recent indicators showed the cultivation of Qat trees in Jahran increased. Qat was cultivated in every village during 2008 in areas ranging from 4400 m to 6600 m.
Secretary General of Dhamar Local Council Mujahed al-Ansi made it clear that the governorates and the local authorities have worked together to assist agricultural institutions in the governorate to adopt the means necessary to fight Qat cultivation in the Jahran flatland and other areas of the governorate.
“The Cooperative Credit Agricultural Bank’s Dhamar Branch has been directed by its president to provide no interest loans amounting to YR 100 million to assist framers in their attempt to cultivate a prosperous crop, such as wheat,” he added.
Despite many decisions issued by local council aimed at banning Qat cultivation and expansion, in addition to awareness campaigns through mosques and schools, there has been no legislation as of yet to compel farmers to uproot the tree.
“But we hope for the volunteer cooperation of citizens to uproot the Qat tree from the Jahran flatland wholly.”
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