Water is a precious resource in Yemen. Providing farmers incentives that lead to Qat replacement crops can preserve the environment.

Haitham Alaini supports Qat Replacement Crops

In Yemen, qat is both a national crop and an addictive pastime – somewhere between a mild narcotic and several concentrated cups of coffee.

Mixed reaction emerged when the city of Aden recently banned weekday use of qat. Some people didn’t like the government intruding into their daily lives. Others embraced the idea of removing the leaf, even temporarily, from the culture.

Qat is so intertwined in Yemeni culture that it’s often chewed during wedding celebrations and given as a gift. By some estimates, qat accounts for more than 10 percent of GDP and provides employment to 14 percent of the country’s working population.

But qat is also an environmental drain – literally – as a crop that empties Yemen of precious water reserves. For Yemen to develop, what’s needed more than a ban on qat is a concerted effort to replace the crop.

It’s been known for years the qat shrinks underground water sources. The dried earth is cracked, with fissures running hundreds of yards in length.

Farmers must drill deeper and deeper for an irrigation source for their qat crop.

All that must change, for the good of our country, to stabilize our environment and to bring water to the thirsty.

While it would take time to implement, Yemen should consider recommendations made by the World Bank regarding qat in the country, including:

  • Assisting farmers to develop and market alternatives to qat, including high-value crops (olives, almonds, coffee)
  • Offering credit for farmers to shift to other high-value crops and promote the role of the Cooperative Agricultural Credit Bank
  • Expanding non-farm livelihood activities
  • Establishing a fund to compensate qat farmers for withdrawing production
  • Promoting strategies, policies and legal measures on water resources
  • Improving farmer extension services in relation to use of water, pesticides, alternative pest control measure and fertilizers

I thirst for a new idea, a new way, a qat-replacement crop and the strategy to grow better days in Yemen.

~ Haitham Alaini