How Qat Threatened The World's Finest And First Coffee

What is Qat (Khat)?


Khat is a flowering evergreen shrub native to East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The plant (Catha edulis) contains two alkaloids, cathinone and cathine, which act as stimulants.

Users simply chew the green khat leaves, keeping a ball of partially chewed leaves against the inside of their cheek (similar to chewing tobacco).

The dried leaves can also be used in this way, though they have less potency. Some khat users also smoke the drug, make it into tea or sprinkle it on food.

The leaf's energy-boosting and hunger-numbing properties help university students focus on their homework, allows underpaid laborers to work without meals and, according to local lore, offers the same help to impotent men that Westerners seek in Viagra.

Though khat is generally described as a mild stimulant, there is consistent evidence of overuse and addiction. Long-term use or abuse has been linked to "insomnia, anorexia, gastric disorders, depression, liver damage" and heart attack, according to a 2009 study from the Austrian medical journal Wiener klinische Wochenschrift. 


How Does it Affect Coffee Production?


Much of Yemen’s agricultural land, was used to grow khat which generates quick profits. Chewing Khat is a common practice in Yemen and the Horn of Africa and is so widespread that a short lived ban on khat in the mid-2000s was completely ignored before being quietly dropped.

But widespread cultivation of khat had heightened water shortages as the plant needs more water to grow than other crops. Khat was made illegal in the UK in June 2014.


De-Rooting Qat For Farmer's Upliftment


The efforts towards uprooting Qat trees was undertaken by the Dawoodi Bohra community under the decree and guidance of Mansoor al Yemen, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin (RA). Local followers of this sect were given a deadline of 6 months to eradicate their Qat plantations in favor of coffee or other agricultural options.

These efforts reiterated by Aqiqal Yemen, Syedna Aaliqadr Mufaddal Saifuddin (TUS) has led to the output of the world's finest coffee once again. 


The Sustainable Transition


A major component of ensuring collective participation on an individual level towards sustainable Yemeni coffee production is where our partner, Shabbir Ezzi, a member of the Dawoodi Bohra Shiite sect with roots in Yemen, hopes to persuade farmers to give up growing qat through a competitive pricing standard and startup resources to convince farmers that they could make more money by planting coffee. 

Farmer Mohammad al-Azzi, one of Ezzi's clients, quit growing qat six years ago. Standing amid terraced fields carved along a horseshoe-shaped valley in the Haraaz Mountains, a couple hours from the capital of Sanaa, he points to the red bean coffee plants that he now cultivates.

"For us, coffee is like gold," says Mr. Azzi, explaining that coffee has been more successful than qat, proving to be a "great income" for his family.  

A more integrated approach to the coffee trade by building relationships with Yemen coffee growers.