March 21, 2012
Khat — a leafy plant used as a natural stimulant in the Horn of Africa – has become the backbone of the region’s economy, providing the main source of income for farmers, as well as jobs for thousands of others employed in the value chain.
“As households earn more income from khat cultivation, they have reduced their dependence on selling fuel wood – a major driver of deforestation in Africa,” said Habtemariam Kassa, CIFOR scientist and co-author of Khat and livelihood dynamics in the harer higlands of Ethiopia: Significance and challenges.
In a region affected by frequent droughts and declining soil fertility, the rise of the farming population in the Harer highlands of Ethiopia over the last 40 years has presented additional challenges to farmers, further limiting arable land and shrinking land holdings for farming households.
“In response to smaller land sizes and stagnant grain yields, farmers shifted to khat (Catha edulis), whose production and price increased markedly over time, and led to improved land management and increases in household income,” the study notes.
Farmers in the Harare highlands have been growing khat for many years. But khat has become their principal crop over the past few decades. Khat has proven to be a versatile plant which can be used in building and construction as well as firewood. The leftover leaves of the marketable branches are important feed particularly for goats.
Khat also plays a critical role in reducing soil erosion and degradation, as plots where khat has been planted are not used for grazing and are better managed by farmers in terms of terraces and addition of manure.
“Khat cultivation is not only feeding households, it is helping to protect our forests,” said Kassa.
While farmers in the Harer highlands have historically subsisted on a mixed portfolio of crops, khat sales now constitute the major source of farm income. Khat generates the highest return per hectare of cultivated land, compared to other crops grown in the Harer highlands, including coffee, another principal Ethiopian crop.
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