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Qat Poses Threats to Yemen's Food Security, Says Agriculture Minister

  Written By: Moneer Al-Omari (YEMEN POST STAFF)
  Article Date:
10, 2008



Qat badly affects health; however, there has been no systematic study into the risks of Qat on health. It was revealed recently that Qat treated with pesticides is a key factor in the increased numbers of cancer in Yemen.

Specialists reveal that there are over 20,000 cases of cancer in Yemen and the number is on the increase. Again, they could not deny that Qat is directly connected with new diseases that were unknown before, partly because of using hazardous pesticides to make speedy growth of Qat leaves.

However, this report relates to the Qat economies and how it badly affects the country's economic plans and water reserves, especially when over seven million Yemenis chew Qat and the number increases rapidly.

New numbers of women and children join the list of Qat chewers. It is estimated that one third of Yemenis chew Qat and spend, on average, six hours per day. Similarly, an average Qat chewer will spend about YR 600 (some $3) per day to buy Qat. In addition, about YR 200 is spent on buying beverages and cigarettes.

Qat disastrously affects the Yemeni economy especially in matters relating to wasted hours, bribery, etc. and this is admitted by several public servants who reveal that they are forced to take money from people in return for the services they render, which are supposed to be offered for free.

There have been different attempts to root out Qat from the country; however, they yielded insignificant results. Instead, the country has seen more expansion in Qat plantation, particularly in valleys famous in the past for producing the finest types of coffee or corn and other cereals.

During the early 1970s, the Yemeni former Prime Minister Muhsen Al-Aini was the first to issue directives for rooting out Qat trees; however, people were not ready then to put these directives into practice and few lands in his homeland were eliminated of Qat and no more.

Inaugurating the workshop of "Economies of Qat Production and Marketing in Yemen", the Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation Mansour Al-Hawshabi pointed out that Qat has turned to be the biggest challenge for agricultures and food security in the country especially, when its consumption is increasing markedly. Such an increase in Qat consumption is set against increases in its produced and marketed quantities.

Al-Hawshabi stressed the importance that there should be alternatives and solutions that could help the state reduce areas planted with Qat which have been on rise over the last few years.

In this regards, he revealed that the area planted with Qat mounted to reach 141,000 hectares of lands that were planted in the past with coffee and cereals, especially when the country is in a dire need for each hectare as it can secure part of people's food needs.

"These figures and statistics should be directed to cash crops to substitute Qat, so that it can help reduce the food gap we are suffering now, especially when over 70 percent of consumed wheat and other cereals as well as meats and oils are imported from abroad," said Al-Hawshabi.

Further, Al-Hawshabi pointed out that 80 percent of pesticides are imported and used for Qat plantation. Farmers use pesticides and fertilizers to help make Qat leaves grow faster.

Though Al-Hawshabi mentioned that 30 percent of underground water resources are used for Qat plantation, experts disclose that about two-thirds of Yemen's underground water has been consumed on Qat plantation.

Al-Hawshabi added that resorting to the alternative crops will help bridge food gap between imports and exports and further raise the contribution of the agricultural sector in the GDP estimated to be 18 to 20 percent at the present time.

For his part, the Food and Agriculture Organization representative Hashim Al-Shami hinted that demand pointers over Qat are rising in a way that threatens that future of agriculture and food security in Yemen.