Qat trumps coffee in Yemen

Qat trumps coffee in Yemen
3 min read
15 March, 2015
Feature: Yemen’s world famous coffee is losing ground to Qat, a quicker, easier and cheaper crop to grow, with guaranteed profits.
Yemeni markets are being flooded with coffee imported from Brazil, Ethiopia and Turkey [Al-Araby al-Jadeed]

Mohammad al-Sanaani sells Yemeni coffee from his shop in Sanaa’s old town. He lives in constant fear of losing his trade due to the alarming spread of the Qat plant at the expense of the cultivation of coffee beans.

“I am proud to sell coffee, as it has the aroma of my country. Every day I smell these beans that make the best kind of coffee there is,” said Sanaani.

The Yemeni government does not provide the necessary support for the declining coffee industry, however, prompting many farmers to switch to growing Qat, Sanaani said.

"There is no high demand. We used to depend on selling coffee to tourists, but even tourism has stopped completely, due to the deteriorating security situation." 

High quality coffee

I am proud to sell coffee, as it has the aroma of my country.
Mohammad al-Sanaani


Hamadi coffee, the most famous kind of Yemeni coffee, is sold for 4,000 Yemeni Rials (about US$20), which is a small amount compared to the cost of growing coffee beans.

Sanaani fears that Yemeni markets are being flooded with coffee imported from Brazil, Ethiopia and Turkey, despite the world fame and high quality of Yemeni coffee. However, what Yemeni coffee vendors fear the most is the spread of Qat at the expense of coffee because it is cheap to grow, compared with the high cost of growing coffee.

“I hope Yemeni coffee does not disappear or get replaced by Qat, which smells of internationally banned and lethal pesticides. I only sell coffee in Yemen now; I do not export it to foreign markets because the government, represented by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Agricultural Cooperative Union, does not facilitate this,” Sanaani added.

Sanaani said that Saudi Arabia was the number one market for Yemeni coffee, preferred by Saudis due to its high quality and low demand from the US and Japan following the events of 11 September 2001.

Thousands of Yemeni families depend on the coffee harvest for income. Nearly one million people work in the industry, starting from the growing of the crop until its export.

Yemen’s coffee production increased from 14,000 tons in 2009 to 19,000 in 2012, reaching 20,000 in 2013. These numbers are considered small in comparison with other countries’ production.

The Yemeni Ministry of Agriculture said that the government aimed to increase the country’s annual coffee production from 25,000 tons to 50,000 over the next five years. The Ministry also plans to carry out activities and programmes to support and develop the production of coffee. This includes improving the rainwater harvesting system, as well as introducing modern irrigation techniques and using solar energy.

Coffee exports

Yemen exports 7,000-10,000 tons of coffee to Japan, the US, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Yemeni coffee is known around the world as Arab coffee, which is considered the finest coffee in the world. There are different types of Yemeni coffee: al-Adini, al-Dawairi, al-Tofahi, al-Borei, the most prevalent. Most are named after the areas where they grow.

Yemen's coffee production increased from 14,000 tons in 2009 to 19,000 in 2012, reaching 20,000 in 2013.

Experts say the fact that Yemen produces relatively small amounts of coffee is due to geography and the shortage of water in Yemen, as well as the old agricultural techniques and the fragmentation of agricultural landownership, which increases with every generation, or is converted to growing Qat for quick profit.

The Ministry of Agriculture confirmed that work is underway to improve production, and both the government and international organisations were interested in developing and increasing the country’s coffee production. According to the ministry, the strategy included the distribution of coffee seedlings for free or official fixed prices.

Despite all the obstacles Yemeni coffee production and trade faces, it is the country’s main export after oil.

Yemeni coffee is currently exported to Gulf countries, Japan, the US, Canada, Russia, France, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Turkey and India.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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