San Jose Mercury News
Ethiopian Farmers Turn to Khat#
Posted on Sun, Dec. 29, 2002
Ethiopian farmers turn to drug crop
By Sudarsan Raghavan
Mercury News Africa Bureau
BEDESA, Ethiopia - Usmani Ali has given up on coffee and turned to growing something more profitable: drugs.
Faced once again with massive food shortages, Ethiopian farmers like Ali are uprooting their coffee trees and replacing them with khat, a leafy narcotic that is this region's version of moonshine.
During previous droughts like the one now gripping the country, the global coffee market helped Ali, 28, stave off starvation. He sold his prized crop to traders, who paid him decent prices and sold his coffee to American and European companies, which stocked it on grocery shelves and cafes from Stockholm to Miami.
But today there's too much coffee in the world, and prices are at 30-year lows. While premium Ethiopian coffees fetch up to $12 a pound in the United States, Ethiopia's farmers get only 15 cents for it.
That's not enough to cover Ali's costs. So he's turned to khat, a leafy cash crop that is chewed legally by millions of people in the Horn of Africa and Middle East. In the United States and Britain, where it is illegal, khat fetches as much as $200 a pound.
"Khat is much better than coffee,'' said Ali, standing next to his family's last patch of coffee trees. The red coffee berries are rotting from a drought-related pest because Ali can no longer afford pesticide.
Down the hill are rows of green khat bushes glistening in the sun. The narcotic is drought- and pest-resistant. It can grow on less water and in less time than coffee. And when chewed for a long time, khat has another powerful draw: It makes people feel less hungry.
"A person can stay for two days without eating,'' said Muhammad Ali, 39, Usmani's brother. "But then you fall down.''
Ethiopian officials say khat production is hurting the country's economy because it is part of the underground economy and is not taxed. By contrast, coffee was Ethiopia's prime source of hard currency.
Hard currency will be needed to pay for imported food next year when aid workers are predicting that as many as 11 million Ethiopians could face starvation.
An estimated 75 percent of all coffee farmers in the highlands of Hararghe, home to the aromatic Harar coffee, have either uprooted coffee trees to plant khat or are growing both, said Tadesse Meskela, general manager of the Oromiya Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union in the capital, Addis Ababa.
Farmers like Ali could never grow large quantities of food, given drought-prone conditions; nor, as the World Bank suggests, can they grow cash crops, such as cotton and sugar, for export. They can't compete with more efficient, government-subsidized U.S. and European farmers. Rapid population growth also has shrunk farm sizes with each generation.
Ethiopian Farmers Turn to Khat#
Jan 2003, DRCNet
Battered by drought and low coffee prices, Ethiopian farmers are
pulling up their coffee trees and replacing them with khat, a
mild, leafy stimulant used in the region for thousands of years.
With coffee prices at a 30-year low, an estimated 75% of coffee
farmers in the Hararghe highlands (home to the world famous,
highly aromatic Harar coffee beans) have uprooted their trees and
planted khat, said Tadessa Maskela, general manager of the Oromiya
Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union in the capital, Addis Ababa.
Some farmers are growing both crops, he told the San Jose Mercury
While traditionally taken like tea in the Horn of Africa, khat has
been banned in the US, Britain and Canada. As a result, khat
fetches up to $200 a pound in the US -- compared to $12 for
Ethiopian coffee. It also has an additional -- if temporary --
benefit for users in the drought-stricken, starvation-threatened
Horn. "Khat is much better than coffee," coffee farmer Usmana Ali
told the Mercury News. "A person can stay two days without
eating. But then you fall down."
Khat is drought and pest resistant and requires less water and
less time to grow than coffee. But the turn to khat production
instead of coffee harms Ethiopia, according to government
officials. Coffee was the country's primary source of foreign
currency, and Ethiopia needs large amounts of hard currency to buy
food for the estimated 11 million Ethiopians who could face
starvation this year.