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In Yemen, replacing Qat with less-harmful agriculture could boost health, sustainable agriculture, and livelihood of poor farmers

A number of initiatives in Yemen have mobilized support against Qat, a shrub used to alleviate hunger but which negatively impacts health and environment, and many farmers are replacing their Qat crops.

The Strategic Foresight Group writes,

"The growing prevalence of Qat farming in Yemen is a cause of grave concern. In recent years, Yemeni farmers have taken the initiative of uprooting Qat and replacing it with other crops. If this trend continues, it will bring social, nutritional and ecological benefits to the people in the coming years.

SFG explains that QAT is a shrub whose leaves alleviate fatigue and reduces hunger during Ramadan. Its use is widespread and while it has high economic importance, it has negative effects on ecology, society, and human health. These include high water consumption, soil depletion, a significant source of budgets for poor families, linkages to cancer and kidney failure, and indirect linkages to liver problems among poor farm workers due to the pesticides required to grow it.

"The harmful affects of Qat are being highlighted through awareness campaigns organized by NGOs such as the Yemeni Women’s Union. The awareness has resulted in farmers replacing Qat with other crops like wheat, fruits, olive, almonds and coffee. The Ministry of Agriculture is also helping the farmers, who are uprooting Qat and growing wheat, fruits and potatoes, with improved seeds, fertilizers, modern irrigation facilities and agricultural guidance. The agricultural bank at Dhamar governorate is giving interest-free loans to farmers who need financial help for replacing Qat. A major initiative was launched in the Haraz region in 2006 and continues to assist an unprecedented number of farmers to replace Qat with coffee. Around 250,000 Qat plants have been removed in Eastern Haraz and the region is likely to be free from Qat by 2020."

Implications

The Strategic Foresight Group writes,

"If more farmers replace Qat in the coming years, the initiative can control the rise of Qat cultivation and production. The substitution of Qat with essential food crops like wheat, fruits and almonds is likely to reduce food insecurity and improve the nutritional level. Large scale replacement of Qat will also save groundwater that can be used for drinking purposes in the rural areas and it will prevent nutrient depletion of the soil. This will contain the excessive and improper use of pesticides which is likely to have a positive impact on the health of agricultural workers. The uprooting of Qat and its replacement with other crops has the potential of bringing enormous benefits in the next 30-40 years."

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Sources:

The Strategic Foresight Group, Middle-East Edition, July 2010, page 8-9: http://newsletters.clearsignals.org/SFG-ME_July2010.pdf#page=8

‘Yemen in Figures 2008,’ Central Statistical Organization, Yemen. <http://www.csoyemen.
org/publiction/yemen/Yemen%20in%20figures%2020082.doc>

‘Qat Replaced with Beneficial Plants,’ Yemen Observer, 9 May 2010.
<http://www.yobserver.com/front-page/10018648.html>

‘Japan Aid Helps Yemen of Qat’, Yemen Observer, 25th April 2010.
<http://www.yobserver.com/local-news/10018578.html>

‘Liver Problems Seen in Young People with History of Bilharzias Infection’, Yemen Post, 10th
April 2010.
<http://www.yemenpost.net/Detail123456789.aspx?ID=100&SubID=163&MainCat=8>

‘Farmers in Dhamar Uproot Qat and Replace it With Food Crops,’ Yemen Times, 27th February
2010. <http://www.yementimes.com/defaultdet.aspx?SUB_ID=33690>

‘Qat Absorbs More than Yemen’s Depleting Water,’ Yemen Observer, 16th February 2010.
<http://www.yobserver.com/front-page/10018176.html>

‘Qat: The Cursed Plant in Yemen,’ Yemen Times, 18 January 2010.
<http://www.yementimes.com/defaultdet.aspx?SUB_ID=33414>

‘Can Yemen Reduce Qat Expansion,’ Yemen Times, 14th December 2010.
<http://www.yementimes.com/defaultdet.aspx?SUB_ID=33176>

‘Coffee Replacing Qat at Last,’ Yemen Today, 21 November 2009. <http://www.yementoday.
com/go/special_reports/3010.html>

‘Yemen Replaces Qat with Olive Trees,’ Yemen Times, 16th September 2009.
<http://www.yementimes.com/DefaultDET.aspx?i=1286&p=health&a=1>

‘Tackling Yemen’s Qat Epidemic,’
<http://www.aawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=3&id=17730>

‘Qat: The Plague of Yemen,’ Yemen Observer, 26th October 2008.
<http://www.yobserver.com/sports-health-and-lifestyle/10013815.html>

‘WHO warns Yemen of Dangers of Qat Consumption,’ Yemen Observer, 14th October 2008.
<http://www.yobserver.com/sports-health-and-lifestyle/10015022.html>

‘Haraz Trades Qat for Coffee Farming,’ Yemen Times, 12th August 2008.
<http://www.yementimes.com/DefaultDET.aspx?i=1164&p=report&a=1>