The global trade in khat is controversial. The United States and most countries in Europe have banned it, considering it a psychotropic substance. But it contributes significantly to farmers’ livelihood in Eastern Africa. Though public officials in the region denounce its consumption, they benefit from the foreign exchange and tax revenues that it generates. So, how should this contradiction be resolved?
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Since the evidence on the health consequences of khat remainsinconclusive, a more feasible option than banning khat is toestablish a system of regulating its production, distribution and consumption that takes into account its critical contribution to farmers’ livelihoods. This option would involve licensing khat retailers, setting age limits for consumption and establishing a system of quality control for the product.
Prohibiting the cultivation of khat, by contrast, would threaten the livelihoods of many farmers and traders, and likely drive many of them deeper into illegal activity or into poverty. Criminalising those who have to rely on khat production for their survival is not the answer. The discussion of khat needs to be placed within a development framework instead of being dominated by a mindset that stresses illicit ‘substance abuse’.