Friday, March 7, 2008

khat vs. coffee

khat is a leafy green shrub that grows extremely well in east africa. the fresh leaves have been chewed for countless generations in ethiopia and somalia - khat is a semi-powerful stimulant, certainly more potent than coffee but not nearly as intoxicating as its narcotic siblings. until recently khat has been an accepted part of ethiopian culture - it is the type of thing that must make a day of picking or sorting coffee beans a hell-of-a-lot-more-tolerable. but in the past decade khat usage and production has grown exponentially and seems to only beginning its ascent to the top of the east african crop pyramid.

khat farmers make about three times what coffee farmers make - you know you are on a khat farm when the common dirt hut has been replaced by a concrete abode - and if the sound of international television can be heard you can be assured it is not arabica in the fields.

the question is - how do you feel about this growing issue?

it is not an easy argument to pounce on - if you have seen the living conditions of the coffee farmers it would be nothing short of complete arrogance to denounce this crop in a full throated invective. if you have worked a day picking coffee cherries - or rather three months (something i have not done) - then again you might find khat less offensive - and if you are the struggling ethiopian government khat is about the best source of funds to improve the living quality of your constituents - and if you are a north american that thinks that $4 is already way too much for a cup of coffee than you might have a hard time imagining that cup hiked to $10 to solve the problem.

i want to know what people out there think - i am not pro-khat in the least - i just think it is a fascinating topic....


whit said...

there are several things about this issue that fascinate me - and this is despite limited knowledge on the topic. first there is the drug debate - is khat an amphetamine? the western world views khat as a psychotic drug, but ethiopia + surrounding countries do not. khat usage is considered the reason for the violence against US soldiers in mogadishu in 1993, and the DEA subsequently decided it was an illegal substance. but is it? why is there such a divide among countries as to the effects of khat?

then there are the socioeconomic implications of khat growing - how has the ethiopian government tried to sanction khat growing & distribution? khat is easier, and more lucrative, to grow than coffee. given rapid population growth in rural ethiopia, and limited arable land for crops, residents are choosing more and more to grow khat instead of coffee. is it realistic to think that ethiopian farmers would choose to grow coffee over khat, given the contrasting trading values? it feels a bit like there is a moral hierarchy of crops: coffee > khat.

and lastly - it has been argued that khat production lessens the urban/rural divide, bringing farmers into the urban economy. so there is then pressure on the ethiopian government not to sanction khat growing, because that would drive such growth underground.

i am neither an advocate for nor against khat growing, but i think the khat/coffee debate highlights a number of issues central to global trade - both in the formal and informal economies.

reddoor said...

I am fascinated with the collaboration between one pot + vita. We didn’t know it, but we want to know about the Ethiopian and Brazilian people who have a hand in our morning coffee ritual. The equivalent I can think of is a visit we made to the organic dairy that provides our cream – gentle Jersey eyes reflected in the flavor of each cup. Thanks for the tours.

Anonymous said...

Great blog, for coffee drinkers everywhere. Thanks to Wendy for clueing us into this blog!

Adam said...

has anyone eaten khat? i mean, i know drug experiences tend to be subjective, but isn't that the real issue? what kind of drug are we talking here? if it's like a triple espresso and helps people get through their day, then yeah, grow it. for sure. if it turns you into a killer, then, well, let's hold off.