Qat trade in Yemen: flourishing despite a falling economy

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 Oleg Znamenskiy l Shutterstock.comIt's been fifteen months since war started in Yemen and when I look at the painful reality that more than 21 million Yemenis are in dire need of humanitarian assistance , and more than half the population faces severe food insecurity - besides the millions out of work and countless more displaced - I wonder how it can be that the demand for Qat remains so high .  Little has been said about how this plant has managed to remain so valuable to Yemenis at all times and under any circumstances. It is clear that Qat is a major preoccupation, regardless of the situation .
 
I had the privilege to talk to a Qat dealer from Sanaa last week. I reached him via social media, and asked him if the war had negatively impacted his business. He said that on the contrary, he was selling more Qat than before war.  “People have more free time now, or, in reality, no place to go,” he said. He added that the total electricity blackout, not to mention the high cost of fuel, has left people with very limited options. In defense of his trade, he said: “it’s better to stay home chewing Qat and listening to the terrifying sound of the fighter jets, than walking around outside in these very dangerous conditions”.
 
During our interesting discussion, I noted that there was a stark contrast between the steadily deteriorating economic conditions and the growth of the Qat market. The Qat dealer said simply that they had been forced to lower the prices -but not for very long- to respond to the economic hardship Yemenis were facing.   He was quick to add that increased sales volume had compensated for the decline in prices. He even explained that Qat dealers had innovated and adopted new measures to help people meet the cost of Qat in their reduced circumstances. They introduced flexible payment mechanisms such as delayed payments, or paying in installments. The Qat dealers also seized the opportunity offered by the government’s preoccupation with war to establish new markets in the main streets of Sanaa and to avoid paying  taxes. Moreover, Qat farmers also took advantage of the government’s distraction to drill more wells and waste more of the country’s dwindling supply of groundwater on irrigating Qat farms.
 
The thing that struck me the most was that he was convinced of the benefits of the Qat trade, that it had helped people secure an income, especially those who had lost their jobs.
 
I would end my blog with one final observation.   It seems that the Qat trade is the sole winner of the current war in Yemen .

Authors

Ebrahim Al-Harazi

Specialist in Communications and Development

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