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Politics of Qat by Peer Gatter: Ups and downs in qat politics after 2002 (part 2/2).

The government-run Al-Thawra Al-Iqtisadi newspaper denounces the loss ofC[degrees] "11C[degrees]-C1/417C[degrees] C1/4million working hours daily"C[degrees] C1/4due to qat chewingC[degrees] (C1/4April 2C[degrees], C1/42002C[degrees]).C1/4

The cover page shows an old man with an apprehensive look in his eyes, half-smiling as he hands you a bunch of qat leaves. In the background there is a wild-eyed teenage boy, cheeks swollen from the qat that fills them, peering into the camera.

This 862 page hard-cover book published by Reichert Publications is a weapon in all senses of the word. Besides documenting the ever growing role qat plays in Yemen and in the life of Yemenis, the book also analyses Yemen's qat policy, the tribal qat economy, and the qat connections of our decision makers.

I had this huge publication lying by my bedside for months before I summoned the courage to pick it up and start reading. This was not only due to its intimidating size, but probably even more so due to its topic. Qat, and the political and economic schemes around it, were to me as a Yemeni always a well-known problem. I just was too afraid to read for myself and acknowledge how I as a citizen am part of a society that enables this culture of qat.

I don't chew Qat and personally I am ardently opposed to it. But I live in a society where Qat prevails. After years of research, Peer Gatter, the author of this book, published it in 2012, offering to the world an insight into this drug and what it has done to my country. Gatter was working for many years for the World Bank and UNDP in Yemen and is now heading the Integrated Expert Program for Afghanistan of the German Development Cooperation (GIZ-CIM).

To read more about the book go to

With the resource base of the Yemeni regime having stabilized due to high oil prices and the resumption of lending by international donors, the political discussion on qat quickly died down following the First National Conference on Qat in 2002. During the following years, qat only made brief headlines.

However, starting again in 2006, there were several government attempts to tackle this issue with varying degrees of seriousness and success.

In February 2008, Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Mujawar decreed the formation of an inter-ministerial committee on qat with approval of all members of Cabinet. The commission was to be headed by the Ministers of Agriculture and Irrigation, and comprised also the ministers of Legal Affairs, Health, Water and Environment, Electricity and Power, Local Administration, Finance, Industry and Trade, as well as the Chairman of the Tax Authority.

The inter-ministerial committee was to prepare a draft decree to constrict agricultural land use for qat cultivation and to review possibilities to (a) levy taxes on land used for qat cultivation, (b) move qat markets away from the cities, (c) issue a decree to report any farmers who spray insecticides on qat plants to district prosecution offices and the judiciary, (d) allocate 50 percent of tax collected on qat to support the agriculture sector, particularly the cultivation of grains, and to support irrigation and water harvesting establishments, and (e) raise customs tariffs including fees on permits for importing agricultural insecticides used in qat cultivation, and record and allocate 50 percent of fees for the benefit of the agricultural sector.

Based on this decree, the Ministry of Agriculture & Irrigation called for a second National Conference on Qat in 2008 and summoned the secretariat members of the First National Conference on Qat to submit ideas and hold a preparatory workshop. The cabinet debates that led to the Prime Ministry Decree No. 35 were highly controversial. A number of fellow ministers strongly cautioned the agriculture and irrigation minister of including any kind of measures that he would not be able to enforce. A relocation of qat markets or a monitoring of pesticide application on qat farms was thought by many cabinet members to be simply overambitious and illusionary. Yet, the minister prevailed, muzzling also all criticism within his own ministry, pointing out that he had the direct order from President Saleh to go for a comprehensive decree that would give a strong signal to the Gulf Cooperation Council that Yemen was determined to act on qat now.

Replacing qat trees with crops

One milestone in the state's initiatives against qat, was the prohibition of qat cultivation on agricultural flatlands. It took two years until an opportunity with audience appeal arose to implement the 2007 decree regarding this prohibition. During his February 2009 visit to Dhamar, President Salih admonished the population for rising numbers of revenge crimes and called upon both farmers and governorate authorities to "use land for cultivating useful crops" and to "take necessary measures to ban qat cultivation in the Jahran basin."

In response to the presidential directives, Dhamar's Governor Yahya Al-Amri launched a campaign to uproot qat and personally assisted when on February 22, governorate officials and local farmers destroyed the first three hectares of qat plantations on the plateau south of Ma'bar. During the months of March and April the campaign was intensified especially in the Wasta area of the Jahran plain to the west of Ma'bar, where six farmers voluntarily uprooted some 30,000 qat trees.

With the help of the World Bank-funded Water and Soil Conservation Project drip-irrigation schemes and water tanks were made available to over a hundred farmers by mid 2009, who could thereby reduce irrigation time from 18 to just five hours. Besides wheat, also peaches, strawberries, hot pepper, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, and potatoes have successfully been planted here as replacements for qat.

Yet, progress was slow and farmers were rather hesitant in following uprooting orders. Many farmers explain their reluctance to substitute qat as due to the lack of marketing and storage facilities for fruits, vegetables, almonds, or grain. They demanded guarantees from the governor to be supported in marketing in order to receive a good price for their produce.

A "Governorate Committee on Qat" was thus established in May 2009 to explore and organize marketing processes and controls, and study the phenomenon of the expansion of qat cultivation in the cold flatlands. Farmers also received the pledge that government companies would initially buy their products at favorable prices of above market value. The Corporation for Producing Improved Seeds already started in 2009 to purchase grain from the Wasta area at double the market price. Upon instruction of President Salih, cultivators additionally received interest-free loans of up to YR200,000 (ca. $1,000) in order to buy farming equipment. The Agricultural Credit Bank made a total of YR100 million in loans for Dhamar farmers available (ca. $500,000). A number of Jahran farmers who had uprooted their qat also received support in apiculture development.

Although the 2007 decree mentions six flatland areas in Dhamar in which qat is to be eliminated, Governor Al-Amri has implemented the order so far only as a pilot initiative in the Jahran plain along the Dhamar-Ma'bar-Sana'a road.

Ibb and Sana'a governorates replace qat

In April 2010, the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation in cooperation with local authorities of Manakha district, Sana'a governorate, launched a qat-uprooting campaign in the Haraz mountains.

Authorities propagated the crop's replacement with corn, wheat, beans, almonds, and coffee in order to reduce water depletion and improve food security. The Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, Mansur Ahmad Al-Hawshabi, promised that his ministry would support and encourage farmers in adopting modern irrigation systems and make almond and coffee seedlings available at a very low price.

In May 2010, Ibb's Governor Ahmad Abd Allah Al-Hajri inaugurated a coffee and mango planting campaign in the province under the slogan "The Number of Trees is the Same as the Number of People." The aim of the campaign was to replace qat trees with "useful" crops, to establish a number of nature reserves across the governorate, develop tourist and archeological sites, and improve the highway connecting Yarim district with the town of Al-Qaeda. 500,000 trees were to be planted in six Ibb districts until the end of 2010. In a three-day campaign in Al-Sahul area 800 acres cultivated with qat had already been uprooted and replanted with 3,000 coffee and 500 mango seedlings. Also in Al-Qasr area 3,000 acres of qat were cleared and replaced with 10,000 coffee and 2,000 mango plants. Further uprootings were planned in the Dhi Al-Sufal, Jibla, Al-Radma, and Badan areas.

In early 2011, the Sana'a governorate branch office of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation launched a qat-substitution project in the Arus area of Bani Matar district. In cooperation with the World Bank-financed Groundwater and Soil Conservation Project at least 3,000 qat trees were uprooted and replaced with almond seedlings on agricultural lands rehabilitated by the project.

Qat on the fast track to the Millennium Development Goals

Yemen's first MDG report of 2002 made no mention of qat and the country's 2003 progress report only marginally referred to the drug in the context of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. This changed in 2011, when the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation (MOPIC) presented its strategy entitled "Fast-track to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals 2011-2015" in which the fight against qat plays a central role in alleviating poverty and extreme hunger. The strategy paper calls for "expanding food production and limiting qat cultivation and consumption through raising awareness among the population on the negative impacts of qat." It also calls for raising qat taxes by as much as 200 percent and proposes to "take out the qat markets from the main cities and reactivate the decrees of preventing qat chewing while on the job and on public premises."

MOPIC also proposed to prohibit qat transfers among governorates and to "support the cultivation of alternative crops like coffee, olives ,and almonds." The strategy further suggests to produce improved and drought resistant seed varieties, support agricultural research, and link it with extension work.

The revival of the qat debate was paralleled by countless GCC meetings in the Gulf States focusing on the rehabilitation of the Yemeni economy in order to make the country fit for membership by 2015.

The Yemeni government held several expert meetings and negotiations with international donor representatives in order to develop a road map for Yemen's integration into the GCC.

The period until the outbreak of the "Youth Revolution" in early 2011 has truly been exceptional also in terms of qat activism. For over five years the government demonstrated with multiple approaches its perseverance in overcoming the qat problem.

When reviewing news reports of the past years, it seems indeed that Yemen has come a long way in combating the drug since 2006. When digging however deeper, it becomes apparent that despite various government efforts and reforms, little true change regarding qat cultivation, marketing, and consumption has taken place. The measures were compartmentalized, lacking coordination, and were bare of any common thread.

Many of the schemes were abandoned after only a few weeks, leading the attentive observer to believe that it was all about headlines. Even before the 2011 unrest, security forces once again parked their service vehicles unopposed and without any embarrassment outside qat markets to purchase qat while still in uniform. Also in Aden, only a few weeks after a comprehensive ban of chewing in public that was issued in 2007, citizens once again crowded the sidewalks and seaside promenades in the early evening hours when temperatures started to drop to bearable levels--with dangerously bulging cheeks.

Qat shipments to Socotra long exceed the levels prior to a shortlived 2009 ban of exporting qat to the archipelago, much to the frustration and despair of many Socotris. And also the illicit pesticide trade is undiminished, a short stroll through Sana'a's Shuub quarter with all its pesticide shops dashes all illusions.

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Publication:Yemen Times (Sana'a, Yemen)
Geographic Code:7YEME
Date:Aug 21, 2014
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