The "Rational Peasant" vs Sustainable Livelihoods: The Case of Qat in Yemen
Lenard Milich and Mohammed Al-Sabbry

This article appeared in abridged form in Development (1995:3). We are grateful to the Society for International Development for permitting its post on the Internet.

The Republic of Yemen
Qat and Gender
"Rational Peasant" Economics
Qat and Sustainable Agriculture
Qat vs Sustainable Development
Strategies for the Future


Writing about the cultivation of qat (Catha edulis) in Yemen is akin to recounting an ancient legend or describing a national history. Because the plant produces alkaloid stimulants, perhaps three quarters of Yemeni adults chew qat leaves each afternoon, for a period lasting at least five hours. People spend about one-quarter to one-third of their cash income on qat (Weir, 1985). And because qat has come to mean everything in Yemeni life, some among the poorer segments of society will willingly forego food in favor of buying qat.

Photo: Qat market, Sadah.

Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Zoubairi, poet and revolutionary hero, passionately condemned qat back in 1958. In his allegorical writing, he compares qat to the devil (CYS, 1982).


The devil grew from the earth to consume the nutrients of other innocent plants. He made the Yemeni people lust after Him, and is fighting in their stomachs against valuable nutrients for the human body. Then He runs in their veins like Satan, and enters their pockets to steal their money. Satan can bring them in the morning as far as the mountain peaks but in the evening will not let them sleep, leaving them in the nightmare of their imaginations. The Yemeni people live half of their lives in His magic. He consumes their strength and heroism. He is our governor, this accursed tree.


Yet to suggest that qat has absolutely no beneficial effects would be misleading. For example, the wealth generated by qat for its cultivators has undoubtedly stabilized the rate of rural-to-urban migration at around a 7-percent annual growth rate since 1970 (World Bank, 1993). The potential effects of the expulsion of over a million Yemeni workers from Gulf Cooperation Council states in retribution for Yemen's support of Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War immediately increased Yemen's population by 9 percent. Because the majority of these men were absorbed in the rural sector, the deleterious effects of such a population surge did not materialize. Moreover, from a macroeconomic perspective the economy benefits from the enhanced money multiplier resulting from currency recirculating via the qat sector. However, we lay out in this paper the concomitant negative aspects of qat cultivation and use. We first expound on the influence of qat on the socioeconomic life of Yemenis, then examine how rational it is for Yemeni farmers to grow it, and next describe how and why qat is a hindrance to sustainable agricultural development in Yemen. Finally, we posit policy steps that, if taken, will begin to counter qat's legacy: the retardation of sustainable development, and the reversal of sustainable livelihoods.

The Republic of Yemen

The Republic of Yemen, located on the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula (Figure 1), was formed in May, 1990, by one of the strangest political mergers of our times: the conservative Yemen Arab Republic ("North" Yemen) amalgamated with the socialist Peoples' Democratic Republic of Yemen ("South" Yemen).(a) South Yemen was a British Protectorate until 1967, and subsequent socialist governments embarked on programs of "liberalization" that included attempts to restrict the use of qat. By contrast, North Yemen was a rarity in the Middle East, for it was never, in modern history, a vassal state of a colonial power. While the Ottoman Turks nominally ruled the country prior to their defeat in World War I, in truth control was limited to a handful of major cities and a few strategic mountaintop fortifications. The Turks were never able to subjugate the stubborn rural tribes. Nor did rural resistance to external edicts simply evaporate either during the ultraconservative Imamate following Turkish rule or since the 1962 revolution that brought North Yemen a republican government. From time to time, the republican government finds itself at odds with northern tribes when its goals oppose those of local sheikhs.

Resistance is not confined to outsiders alone. Intertribal conflict still occurs, especially in the northern portions of the former North Yemen. The recent civil war (1994), pitting the political leaders of the breakaway South against the North, was a larger-scale paroxysm (Yemen Update, 1994, contains a compilation of media reports on the war). The continuing preoccupation with autonomy among Yemenis is symbolically expressed in three ways: virtually every adult male in the former North Yemen wears the traditional jambiya,(b) and in addition many carry rifles ranging from vintage World War I issues to modern-day AK-47s;(c) but most importantly to the Yemenis themselves, and what distinguishes them from all other Arabs, is that they chew qat.

During South Yemen's socialist era, the government attempted to curtail qat by restricting its use to Thursdays only. Friday, the nonwork day, could then be used for recovery. In former North Yemen, there was and continues to be no Islamic counterweight to qat chewing; in fact, most Yemeni religious scholars chew qat, considering it neither a drug nor comparable with alcohol (Al-Amrani, 1979). In 1972, a full-scale propaganda campaign against qat instigated by the Prime Minister failed utterly, and likely contributed to his political downfall less than three months later (Kennedy, 1986). Since unification of the two Yemens, all restrictions on qat have been lifted and qat chewing is a near-daily activity for those who can afford it - and sometimes even for those who can't.


Because its leaves contain chemicals that are mildly stimulating, people from Tanzania to Yemen chew qat. Qat leaves contain three alcoholides (Hes, 1970): cathine (C6H5CHOH(NH2)CH3), cathinine, and cathidine, as well as sugars, tannins, and vitamin C in great amounts (324 mg/100 g vs green [bell] pepper's 120 mg/100 g). The World Health Organization (WHO) considers qat to have amphetamine-like properties, and categorizes it as a separate drug group in which it is the sole member. In its analysis of qat, the WHO contends that chronic qat-chewing can cause hypertension in young adults, with a spontaneous regression once consumption ceases. Qat's strongly-astringent tannins may lead to gastritis, stomatitis, oesophagitis, and peridontal disease; if malnutrition is present, these localized inflammations can be enhanced. The tannic acids produced are also thought to be hepatotoxic. Anorexia and insomnia follow qat chews (Halbach, 1972). Kennedy et al. (1983) concur with WHO's nutritional assessment, finding hepatic, gastric, and urinary-tract problems to be far more common among women qat-chewers than among men because women are often subjected to inferior diets. However, after examining 355 women and 371 men, these researchers opine that the adverse health effects of qat are less than the WHO contends. While Yemenis we spoke with invariably deny qat's adverse health effects, they do freely admit to an insomnia-caused exhaustion that partially disables their ability to work the following day. This disability may be exacerbated by an anorexia-induced hypoglycemia that may result from chewing qat.

There are also positive physiological aspects to qat chewing. Kennedy and Hurwit (1978) report a strong energizing effect among workers, students, and merchants. Elderly people seem to benefit greatly. "In the villages, a great many old people, who usually chew moderately, are still able to work in the fields. The aged do not sit idle in northern Yemen." For Yemenis, however, qat may be less of a drug than a medium for socialization (Varisco, 1986). It dissolves the social barriers that divide Yemenis and separate Yemenis from foreigners. For example, Yemenis delighted in asking the foreign author of this paper if he had chewed. Even after the answer was no longer negative, if qat was at hand, it was quickly proffered; if accepted and chewed, it was to the offerer's (and his audience's) great glee.

But qat is much more than just a drug, stimulant, or social lubricant. It is a way of life; indeed, it seems to control life in Yemen. Abdul-Karim Al-Razihi, a well-known Yemeni writer, offers the following opinion (Khalis, 1993a): "Qat... is the opium of our people. It is the green Imam who rules over our republic. It is the key for everything and it is central to all our social occasions. It is the unexplainable that explains everything."

One of the indicators of Yemenis' preoccupation with qat is that men's minds focus on the qat market by late morning every day of the week. Managers or civil servants send their subordinates, travelers stop along the road, and Yemeni men from Hodeidah to Tarim, from Sad'ah to Aden, gather at local qat markets. Brought from mountain terraces generally over 1000 m in elevation, and with a shelf-life of only 24 to 48 hours at best, the transportation and distribution of qat around Yemen (and, reputedly, smuggled across the border to Saudi Arabia) might well rival in efficacy the ancient frankincense trade routes on which the Yemeni kingdoms thrived in past times (Abercrombie, 1985). The qat that reaches the Hadramout, for example, starts from the Highlands, passes through the ancient cities of Ma'rib and Shabwa, and skirts the Empty Quarter before arriving at Al Qatn.

Photo: Qat terraces, Bani Mat'r, Yemen.

Chewing of qat is a purely social (but gender-separate) event. Qat chews start after lunch, the main meal of the day. Qat chewing mostly occurs in private homes, with all in attendance bringing their own qat. Merchants chew qat in their shops or stalls, drivers and their passengers in vehicles, and afternoon workers at their job sites. Only the tenderest leaves and shoots are stripped from the twigs and chewed. In rooms, one or more tobacco-burning water-pipes are in continuous use; in other qat-chewing venues, men often chain-smoke cigarettes. The act of communal chewing promotes interpersonal interactions. For example, as passengers on public transport we observed spontaneous eruptions of group conversations among previously-mute Yemenis once qat chews began. While individual Yemenis are often cognizant of the economic burden of qat that they bear as consumers, social pressure forces people to participate in qat chews. If they opt not to, they will be labeled as social outcasts.

Qat and Gender

While both men and women chew qat, it is the men who often derive most of the benefit from its cultivation. Both men and women actively farm in Yemen (i.e., the women are not in seclusion as are Muslim women under the Taliban in Afghanistan, for example). However, it is the men who grow qat, who sit up all night guarding it, and who harvest it. And with the singular exception of several female merchants in Taiz, it is the men who market qat and pocket the proceeds of its sale. Women, on the other hand, are responsible for the bulk of other agricultural labor and for a household's livestock. Women hand-feed cattle in their stalls, a tedious process that may take four to six hours daily; it is the dung from these stalls that is often applied on qat fields. In general, women's work has declined considerably wherever qat has replaced grain crops (Adra, 1983). However, because the income from qat is dominated by men, the benefits accruing from growing qat may not be evenly spread through a household. For while Islam requires men to consult their wives regarding finances, it is a man's prerogative to make the final decision on household versus personal expenditures.

"Rational Peasant" Economics

In economic analysis of peasant households, Michael Lipton's 'Theory of the Optimizing Peasant' (1968) was a seminal paper. From this beginning, economists have, using different assumptions, developed several models to explain the behavior of farm households. In the case of qat in Yemen, some of these models (Ellis, 1990) largely hold true, as we'll explain below. In aggregate, we perceive peasant behavior in regard to qat cultivation to be entirely rational. Market prices reflect this rationality (Figure 2); producers are able to earn far more by growing qat than by growing any other cash crop. While somewhat dated, Kennedy's research in North Yemen in the mid-1970s (Kennedy, 1986) unequivocally illustrated the relative ratios of income derivable from qat compared with the income from other crops (Figure 3, top), a finding substantiated by the United Nations (Figure 3, bottom). Different grades of qat yield different profits, as Figure 4 shows. Higher grades, and more-frequent harvests, are produced from irrigated land, the effects of which we'll discuss in the next section.

The profit maximizing peasant: The profit maximizing hypothesis requires only that there are no adjustments of inputs or outputs that would give a household a higher net income, whether measured in monetary or other terms. Economic efficiency in this model is the combination of technical efficiency (for any input level, the maximum attainable output for that input level) and allocative efficiency (for a given technology, the adjustment of inputs and outputs to reflect relative prices). Since qat is so much more lucrative than any other cash crop, it is unsurprising that Highland Yemeni farmers apply inputs (where available) such as water, fertilizer, and pesticides almost exclusively to their qat fields. They are indeed exhibiting economic efficiency.

The risk-averse peasant: While at first evidently synonymous, there is a subtle difference in the usage of the terms risk and uncertainty. Risk implies that while the outcome is unknown, the underlying probability is known. For example, while nobody can know ahead of time the outcome of a coin toss, the underlying probability of 'heads' is 50 percent. Similarly, the risk of rainfall failure can be given a probability; for example, farmers may recognize from experience that 4 years of 10 have suboptimal rainfall. Uncertainty, on the other hand, is where farmers may recognize that the rains will fail with a probability of 4 of 10 years, but cannot predict which years these will be. In actuality, farmers must plan for both risk and uncertainty if they are to survive and prosper. In addition to these physical uncertainties, Yemeni farmers must contend with social uncertainties (e.g., the undercutting of market price for their crops brought about by cheaper imports) and the omnipresent possibility of armed conflict. For Highland farmers, qat is therefore the perfect crop: in the event of drought, it becomes dormant, and will flourish again when the rains return; it is unlikely that qat will ever need to be imported from other nations; and if men are called up for military service or if markets are disrupted by war, qat is hardy and will survive by itself.

The drudgery-averse peasant: This hypothesis centers around the relationship in farm households between farm work (presumed to be irksome) and leisure (presumed to be sought after), and assumes that the value of labor time, and thus the optimum level of labor use, is subject to household size. But the higher labor input per farm worker demanded by the hypothesis as the consumer-to-worker ratio increases is defied by the ease of growing qat and its market economics. First, qat is a perennial crop, obviating the yearly need to prepare fields for planting that annual crops demand. Second, no more weeding is required in qat fields than in other fields. In fact, we witnessed an easing of the weeding burden in qat fields through the use of an animal-drawn hoe, a generally applicable procedure once qat plants reach sufficient size. Third, the harvesting of qat requires no post-harvest treatment; the twigs are simply bundled, wrapped in a thin plastic sheet to prevent dessication, and taken to market. Qat therefore compares well with sorghum, for example, which requires removal of the head from the stalk, the spreading and drying of the heads, and the laborious separation of the grain from the husk using human-wielded sticks. Fourth, as painstaking traditional irrigation techniques have given way to mechanized borewells, the labor involved in the irrigation of qat involves only the laying of water lines. Finally, the return on qat per hour of labor is so much greater than the return for any other cash crop that in fact we find it puzzling that not more Highland fields have been planted with qat.

Qat and Sustainable Agriculture

Ideally, sustainable agriculture means farming in ways that provide a fair return for farmers' work today, while protecting or improving soil, water, and crop genetics for the use of future generations. It also means that local people and their communities are in control, that farming is based on cultural values, and that farming benefits the communities' inhabitants economically, nutritionally, and socially (Cleveland and Soleri, 1993). It implies that the husbanding of natural resources by the farmers is sufficient to replenish all necessary inputs. It requires that farmers not be trapped in an ever-increasing demand for their labor as social factors come to impede access to resources (e.g., multiple subdivisions of land through inheritable property rights). Finally, it stipulates that the sustainability of the system should not come at the expense of unsustainability elsewhere.

Traditional agriculture in Yemen was once an environmentally-sensitive, largely subsistence-based agroecological system (Carapico, 1985). Farmers were in rough ecological balance with their land, crops, and livestock through the active recycling of all waste products and the careful conservation and use of surface- and ground-waters. We now describe how qat cultivation departs from a state of ecological balance, thereby violating several of the above sustainability precepts.

Water Resources: Yemen is an anomaly in the Middle East, for parts of it, especially the Highlands, benefit from copious rainfall borne in on the summer southwest monsoon winds (Figure 5). Indeed, early Arabs termed the country "verdant Yemen." Farmers have built small dams to hold back rainwater, a technology that may reach back 2,000 years (Kennedy, 1985). Since the advent of Islam, traditional water rights in Yemen have been based on Islamic law, i.e., water is a village's common property resource with open access afforded all villagers; shares are distributed according to the size of the area irrigated, with higher-elevation fields receiving shares in advance of valley fields. Groundwater is also considered common property; with the arrival of borehole wells and mechanized pumps, however, wealthier Yemenis have sunk private wells and used the common water-resource for their own benefit.

While qat can be grown on rainfed lands and yields one, or perhaps two harvests of low- to mid-grade leaves, it thrives when irrigated, producing three harvests of high-grade leaves. Certainly it is false to give the impression that qat alone is responsible for the depletion of some aquifers at rates as high as 7 m annually (Hossain, 1993), but if there is limited-supply borehole irrigation in Highland areas, it is used almost exclusively for qat irrigation. In one area we visited near San'a, thin-walled, leaking plastic hoses snaked for hundreds of meters from a borehole well across and along terraces to a newly-planted qat field. The discharge was at full volume, i.e., the field was being flood-irrigated. The farmer explained that qat needs irrigation in its first year, after which it is able to fend for itself if it must. Other farmers asked us if we knew why the discharge volume of mountain springs used for perhaps centuries in traditional irrigation techniques was at an all-time low. They were unable to perceive the borehole well's impact on groundwater levels. Yet other farmers, obviously eager to cash in, asked if we knew whether there was water under their lands.

One estimate suggests that 80 to 90 percent of new wells in the Highlands are used for qat production (Varisco, 1986). Farmers have been provided with subsidized pumps instead of education in appropriate water-conserving techniques, leading to the installation of wells without regard to future consequences (Figure 6). Yet there may be a growing national recognition that water is being squandered. Hossain (1993) writes, "So far water has been treated as a free gift of nature and was harnessed recklessly, leading to the current inefficient, inequitable use." However, for as long as qat delivers on its promise of riches, mere suasion is unlikely to result in behavioral changes.

Photo: Flood irrigation of new qat plants.

Land resources: While Figure 7 shows that qat is but 3.5 percent of the total cultivated area, this is a rapidly-increasing statistic (Figure 8) and one that masks qat's marked influence on, and degradation of, traditional agriculture and the land resource. Most importantly, many highland farmers we spoke with are aware of declining yields of crops other than qat, but as rational peasants do little to halt the decline in soil fertility. First, what were the best, most productive fields have been planted in qat. Second, the Highland farmers we contacted use little, if any, inorganic fertilizers.(d) The organic fertilizers that they do use are applied exclusively to qat fields, an entirely rational behavior. Third, because both the yields of sorghum are declining and the conversion of sorghum fields to qat, there is a decrease in the amount of fodder produced for livestock. This has caused a reduction in the number and productivity of livestock, noticed by Adra (1983) in Highland villages more than fifteen years ago. The cycle of degradation is now almost complete, for with fewer animals, less manure is available to apply to the land. The final closure, as we witnessed in one area close to San'a during the 1994 sorghum harvest, comes through the total removal of the stover from the field, down to the roots of the plant. It is an inescapable conclusion, therefore, that farmers in this area are mining the soil resource. Lastly, a reduction in soil organic matter results in a reduction of the soil's water-holding capacity, leading to greater demands on irrigation. This not only impacts the groundwater resource itself but also reduces the time a field can be used before soil productivity is destroyed through salinization.

Wellbeing: The crux of the matter is that qat-cultivating households are better-off now than when they relied on subsistence or other cash crops. Food is more abundant, although the new foods are not necessarily as nutritious as those consumed traditionally (Adra, 1983). Indeed, because of the decline in livestock productivity, villagers' protein intake may have declined considerably. Wealthier households, too, will often spend a larger proportion of their income on consumer items or higher-quality qat rather than investing it in better nutrition for their members. For nonproducers, qat more assuredly has a negative impact, for many of these households are also increasing their consumption of qat at the cost of reducing the quality of their diet.

Wellbeing has another dimension that is not economic. While qat producers are reluctant to apply inorganic fertilizers, they perceive a much greater benefit from using pesticides - primarily dimethoate, an organophosphate (Ministry of Agriculture, pers. comm. with authors, Dec. 1994) - on their qat fields. Dimethoate is easily absorbed through the skin, and it is unlikely that precautions against exposure are taken by the pesticide's applicators or casual passers-by. Acute toxicity can cause convulsions and respiratory failure (Arizona Poison Control Center, Tucson, pers. comm. with authors, Jan. 1995). A growing concern in Yemen is that pesticides are being applied to qat shortly before harvest. While the chemical breaks down readily when exposed to water, Yemen is, after all, a country with very distinct dry seasons (Figure 5); the probability that dimethoate is not rainwashed from the leaves is therefore quite high. There are no data on the effect on the human body of chronic exposure to dimethoate, but in acute cases the depression of levels of the enzyme cholinesterase lasts for months.

Qat vs Sustainable Development

Unsustainability as interpreted by Jodha (1992) refers to intergenerational inequity, an adaptation of the original Brundtland Report that starkly stated: "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (WCED, 1987). The problems associated with qat, primarily the reduction in the quality of the land resource and the rapid overpumping of stored water, preclude sustainable development. As for economic development, one subset of sustainable development, unquestionably qat has brought great benefits to the villagers engaged in growing it. But as Kennedy (1986) points out, the economic growth that has occurred "must be viewed as shallow and temporary." There is an illusion of economic prosperity in Yemen, which the profusion of Toyotas on the streets and electronic goods in the stores amply demonstrates. However, the essential societal changes that are a prerequisite for economic development are not present. Yemeni social critic Saad Saleh Khalis (1993b) writes that:


"No development can be achieved in Yemen as long as this plant called qat takes up 90 percent of the spare time of the Yemeni people.... Some may argue that this is an old tradition of Yemen just like the arms and jambiyas. But even if that were so, harmful traditions must be thrown away.... The people and the government are satisfied with cursing qat and its effects."


Indeed, the people and the government are satisfied with merely - and rarely - cursing qat; the government has no adequate policies to apply to the problem. In the interim, the population of Yemen is expected to double every 19 years. As in other developing nations, urbanization is rapid: by 1991, 30 percent of the population was urbanized, compared with just 13 percent in 1970 (World Bank, 1993; Anonymous, 1994). High infant (131 per 1,000) and child (190 per 1,000 for children under 5 years) mortalities are indicators of malnutrition, as is a maternal mortality of 10 percent per birth (Kolaise, 1994). The expulsion of 1.2 million Yemeni workers from Gulf Cooperation Council states following the 1991 Gulf War as a result of Yemen's support of Iraq has exacerbated unemployment (Fandy, 1995). Food prices are rising, and poverty is increasing.

While on the one hand many households are becoming increasingly dependent on income from qat (Dr. Abd Al-Rahman Dubaie, pers. comm. with authors, Nov. 1994); on the other hand low- and mid-income qat chewers most certainly contribute to their own impoverishment. For example, Mahdi, an English-language teacher at a rural school 40 km west of San'a, in 1994 earned 9,000 Riyals a month, and spent 250 Riyals each time he chewed qat. He chewed three or four times a week, thus spending 33 to 44 percent of his salary on qat. We witnessed Mahdi asking for a cash advance from the local school administrator - not to buy food but to purchase qat. This codependency between producer and consumer is perhaps fragile. Since qat is not a physiologically addictive drug, one hypothesis suggests that most households will ultimately choose to eat rather than to chew qat. An opposing hypothesis contends that since some qat chewers are already willing to subject themselves to malnutrition, a possible scenario is that more will choose to do so, particularly because qat effectively reduces appetite. If the first hypothesis dominates, the demand for qat will diminish, pushing prices down. The question then is, how will producers react? Will they plant more qat in an attempt to maintain their income, or will they allow the reduction in price to stimulate demand as suggested by classical economics?

While the latter response of producers is bad, because it does not address the issue of how Yemen can break out of the grip of qat, the former is worse. Since the enhanced supply would contribute to keeping market prices low, ever-increasing areas of land would be locked up in qat, and the tapping of water resources intensified. National food security would diminish, since it is always the best, most-productive lands that are converted to qat. The government will have to spend ever-larger sums of hard currency on food imports just to maintain the status quo, contributing to the inflationary spiral and increasing poverty levels. In the face of predicted population growth, malnutrition levels may greatly increase. And as we indicated above, malnutrition enhances the adverse effects of qat. In such a weakened physiological state, we speculate that many Yemenis would be unlikely to survive sustained, drought-induced food shortages that could occur at any time. Qat, then, is unquestionably beneficial to the households that grow it, but we believe it is severely damaging the national weal.

Strategies for the Future

Certainly, the predicted population growth will strain natural resources - and may well enhance qat production merely by so markedly enlarging the consumer pool. Yet a strictly Malthusian outcome is not inevitable, and we outline below the steps to avert catastrophe. We'll begin from the premise that the government is incapable of immediately inducing behavioral change unless it resorts to such draconian anti-qat measures as neighboring Saudi Arabia enforces. The failure of government edicts against qat usage in former South Yemen reveals Yemenis' social conservatism; such a strategy applied in the more-volatile Highlands would be unwise. Attempts to eradicate either the growth or use of qat are therefore likely to be futile and counterproductive in the short term. What is required in Yemen is an analog to the quasi-successful program in the United States to curb tobacco use, but, as with the anti-tobacco campaign, a twenty-year timeframe is a reasonable estimate for an entire population to adjust its behavior and for qat to become stigmatized. Yemenis could be induced to reduce their qat consumption through the use of authoritative, incentive-driven, and hortatory policy tools, both at formal and informal levels of government involvement.

In conjunction with such a sustained anti-qat education program, the government must encourage an increase in the efficiency of qat production so as to at least stabilize the drain on Yemen's land and water resources. While at first glance these policies are mutually contradictory, we posit that a glut of qat on the market will reduce the economic incentive to increase the area of qat cultivation. We list below the steps to be taken to reach this goal.

First, the government must formally and openly recognize the role of qat in the socioeconomic fabric of Yemen; for example, Ministry of Agriculture statistics do not show qat on the list of cash crops as late as the end of 1994. It was only in 1993 that the Ministry accepted the United Nation's report on qat (UN, 1993), so it is just beginning to grasp the scope of the problem. As it has done with the other principal cash crop, coffee, the Ministry of Agriculture must create a Qat Division within its Department of Horticulture. This Division's mandate will be to increase the productivity of qat fields through encouraging (a) the adoption of optimal varietals for each agroclimatic zone and irrigation method, and (b) the scientific use of inputs. Clearly, to achieve these ends, the Division must have the relevant data, which will require it to invest in experimental cultivation of qat and incorporate the indigenous knowledge that qat farmers have already acquired. The government must also commit to spending significantly more of its expenditures on agricultural research and development than the paltry 0.2 percent it was laying out in 1993 (Nouisser, 1993).

Second, extension services in Yemen are generally substandard, and extension agents are rarely seen in the field. Nor do farmers recognize how extension services may be of assistance to them. Dr. Abdul-Wahid Othman Mukrid, Director-General of the General Authority for Agricultural Research and Extension Services (GAARES), commenting on the government's expenditure on agricultural research and development, thinks that "this situation reflects the lop-sided priorities of our policy-makers. They bend to the more pressing issues today, and forget about the pending crises of the future, even the near future" (Nouisser, 1993). In Yemen, GAARES is headquartered in Dhamar, with eight research stations scattered around the country in different agroclimatic zones. One of these stations is in Ma'rib. The orange orchard of one Ma'rib household we visited was in decline: most of the leaves of all the trees were chlorotic, with many oranges undersized and speckled with a black fungus. The owner had no idea that the local extension office could have assisted him. We found similar situations in other areas of Yemen. There are two obvious avenues for aiding households struggling to understand how to best manage their farms. Since fiscal and logistical difficulties preclude an army of extension agents fanning out across Yemen, the least the government can do is ensure that each of the eight research stations has on-site staff trained in agricultural science to assist farmers seeking information. The government must then employ all available methods to inform farmers of the role of extension services, and encourage them to seek assistance when required.

Third, population growth itself can be the instigator of change from extensive to intensive farming systems.(e) Boserup (1965) suggested that a gain in overall prosperity is a direct corollary to a hypothesis of population-density-driven agricultural intensification, "in sharp contrast to the causation from prosperity to population growth and poverty, which was suggested by Malthus." Should agricultural intensification indeed induce a gain in overall prosperity, then it will also enhance food security. Most of the Highland areas of Yemen we saw are farmed extensively (low labor, low input agriculture), despite initial evidence to the contrary - the existence of terraces.(f) The labor-intensive phase of terrace agriculture in Yemen was completed long ago, when the terraces were initially constructed. We witnessed none of the polyculture, plant husbandry, and careful maintenance of soil fertility prevalent in densely-populated areas of Africa such as the Kano Close-Settled Zone (Mortimore, 1993). Therefore, as population pressure mounts and labor becomes more-readily available in rural areas, the government must disseminate information on agricultural intensification and develop incentives that encourage people to remain on the land. The extension-services model we suggest above for qat is readily transportable to both food and cash crops. We believe that with adequate priming, the grassroots will themselves launch the necessary intensification processes. The role of the government and international aid agencies must be to nurture and encourage these endeavors.

Finally, international donors must come to terms with qat. In 1988, Varisco wrote that "The sad truth is that most development planners in North Yemen... prefer to deal with qat by ignoring it." Regrettably, ignoring qat may have been replaced by opposing it. While there have been no aid-sponsored eradication/replacement efforts akin to the coca-replacement programs in South America, donors cannot conceive of supporting ventures that seek to make qat production more efficient. The time has arrived for a change in this stance, for only through active management of qat will its negative effects on development and sustainable livelihoods be checked and reversed.

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a. The terms "North" and "South" are, truly speaking, geographic misnomers, for a glance at an older map reveals that much of South Yemen was, in fact, north of parts of North Yemen, and vice versa. A better nomenclature would probably have been "West" and "East" Yemen. (back to text)
b. The jambiya (
picture) is a gracefully-curved dagger-sheath and dagger. It is used to denote status (larger, and more-intricate sheaths filigreed in silver, for example, denote higher status), in traditional ceremonies (such as the bara dance performed by the groom's male relatives following his wedding), and on occasion for offensive or defensive purposes, landing one or both combatants in a hospital or grave. Up to very recently, jambiya handles were carved from rhino horn, by far the largest factor in the decimation of these animals. Today's handles are made of cow horn or plastic. (back to text)
c. The Yemeni Interior Minister estimated that more than 50 million guns were in private hands, this in a country with a population of 13 to 14 million (Yemen Update, 1994). (
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d. Some reported to us damage to their crops from initial use, undoubtedly caused by inappropriate applications. However, news of the damage spreads rapidly, leaving many farmers hostile to the idea of using inorganic fertilizer inputs. (
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e. Danish economist Ester Boserup's seminal monograph (1965) was the first to highlight this relationship. Thirty years of empirical observations on endogenous intensification processes have ensued, with particular emphasis on Africa. For studies on African drylands, see for Jos, Nigeria: Netting, 1993; Netting, Stone, and Stone, 1993; for Kano, Nigeria: Mortimore, 1993; for Machakos, Kenya: Mortimore and Tiffen, 1994. (
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f. For a fine description of terrace cultivation in Yemen, see Varisco, 1983. (
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