In Haraz: Steps for qat-free Yemen
Taha Ali, a farmer from the Saut village in Haraz, who participated in the scheme, said he joined because qat did not provide him sustainable economic resources.
Qat is “a day for you and a day on you,” he said.
Alqaed Jawhar Althuhra, the secretary of the project, said the focus was on inclusion and not coercion of farmers through education and awareness campaigns that increase inhabitants' awareness of the negative impacts of qat on Yemen’s economic situation.
Since 2005, almost 270,000 qat trees have been uprooted.
Althuhra indicated that the project was not an easy ride, as farmers often met the project with hostility. He says they feared a loss of income if asked to quit growing trees.
However, by providing farmers with alternative sources of income - such as other saplings – and compensating them through the initial period of transition, the project helped turn Haraz from a qat center, to a qat -free zone.
“We brought coffee, fruit and vegetable saplings, as well as pressing the government to build dams and water barrages in the district to facilitate cultivation,” said Althuhra.
He also indicated that there is Al-Ezy factory based in Aser district, which is owned by one of the merchants interested in the project to help the farmers diversify their crops and produce “Haraz” coffee. This factory buys coffee beans for a competitive price and sells them on the international market for a profit, Al-Ezy said.
Ghaleb Qasem, a field supervisor for the project said the farmers in Haraz were cooperative once they were provided with alternatives to qat.
He added that members of the government also played a role in the project by visiting the district and facilitating the establishment of dams and water barrages and paving the roads in highlands to make it easier for the project to be implemented throughout Haraz district.
Taher Alharazi, a local in Haraz, expressed his happiness about the project.
“Haraz’s residents are eager to achieve the project, which we have been working on for two years now.”
Taking over three years from the time it is planted until its first yield is harvested, coffee is a delicate plant to cultivate. With unpredictable and sudden drops in temperature throughout Haraz, many farmers worried about the sustainability of coffee cultivation. To counter this, the project provided farmers with greenhouses.
Mabrook Ibrahim, a farmer in Haraz, said they have used the greenhouses for other crops as well as coffee. Vegetables and fruits like cucumber, tomato and strawberry that require warmer environments to grow, are now being cultivated.
Recently, the calls to combat qat farming and conduct campaigns to execute qat-banning laws have been raised by activists, youth and civil society organizations especially in governmental institutions via social networking websites.
A bill that has been introduced to Parliament is rooted in steps that lead to the gradual elimination of qat farming over a 21-year period, offering financial reimbursement to farmers who quit qat. The bill also includes a ban on qat chewing in public transportation, ministries, institutions, authorities, companies and different state apparatuses.
It further includes prevention of new qat farms and bind farmers to gradually get rid of the plants.
The bill has been met with controversy in Parliament and has yet to be ratified.
While some farmers like Adel Sadan in Bani Matar district, said they might be willing to follow the example of Haraz if presented with a tangible alternative, they are hesitant to give up their way of life easily.
Sadan is critical of anti-qat campaigns, calling them “elitist,” and says the projects rarely provide the financial support necessary to help farmers find alternatives.
Mamoud Motai’a, a farmer in Sana'a is one of self-described “qat lovers,” who also questions the complete eradication of the crop in Yemen.
“Qat is a part of Yemen’s tradition, which we are supposed to proud of. Like other things, qat has advantages and disadvantages,” he said, adding that the leaf is used is economically important in employing citizens.