Ethiopia: on the Aweday khat market, gloomy season for “green gold” – 05/14/2024 at 11:43

Ethiopia: on the Aweday khat market, gloomy season for “green gold” – 05/14/2024 at 11:43
Ethiopia: on the Aweday khat market, gloomy season for “green gold” – 05/14/2024 at 11:43

Aweday khat market (Ethiopia), April 15, 2024 (AFP / Michele Spatari)

Khat, “we call it green gold,” smiles Ramadan Youssouf in his shop in the Ethiopian town of Awedaye, in what is described as one of the largest markets in the world for this euphoric plant.

“We use it in the morning to wake up. And if you ‘chew’, you’ll never get sick,” assures the khat trader, his eyes wide from the effect of the leaves he chews with his mouth full.

But this year, the mood is gloomy on the market and in the surrounding fields: khat brings in less than usual.

“Business is not good,” grimaces Mohamed Ibro, a 45-year-old trader, “the prices are too low” because the dry season which ended in April was unusually wet and khat is overabundant.

Traders also complain about the increase in taxes on the khat trade and the recent tightening of conditions for obtaining a commercial license for exporters.

In the long line of sheet metal shops in this market located about ten kilometers from the city of Harar, in eastern Ethiopia, trade is nevertheless in full swing. Large green bundles or bundles on their shoulders, men jostle in the narrow aisles.

– Export product –

Cleaning and preparation of khat at the Adeway market (Ethiopia), April 15, 2024 (AFP / Michele Spatari)

Farmers submit their harvest to traders who examine it, weigh it and discuss the price. Wads of bills change hands.

Here, there are no scales or official prices, prices are negotiated for each transaction.

“My hands are my scales,” smiles Saada, a thirty-year-old trader, as she weighs a bouquet weighing several kilos. Its thick, still pink stems and the intensity of the green leaves are a sign of superior quality, she says, checking to make sure poorer leaves haven’t been camouflaged there.

“We earn money, but what we earn, we eat,” due to the galloping inflation of food products, deplores Iftu, a solid trader “around 50 years old” who commands with a loud voice to several employees.

Widely consumed in this part of Ethiopia, khat – of which an average consumer chews around 250g per day – is notably sold in sachets on every street corner in Awedaye.

But the plant is above all one of Ethiopia’s main export products and a large part of the bundles from the market go to Wajale, a border town straddling Ethiopia and Somaliland, a self-proclaimed independent Somali province for more than 30 years.

Between 2019 and 2022, the plant represented around 10% of the value of national exports, according to figures from the Central Bank. For the year 2022-2023 (the Ethiopian calendar runs from September to September), it represented 6% ($217.17 million).

– Frown –

Harar has long been famous for its coffee. But over the past four decades, khat has replaced coffee trees on the hillsides surrounding the city.

On the Aweday khat market (Ethiopia), April 15, 2024 (AFP / Michele Spatari)

The Harar region and the neighboring areas of East Hararghe and West Hararghe concentrate half of Ethiopia’s 281,000 hectares of khat fields. And the 1.1 million households who grow the plant there are also looking gloomy this year.

Youssouf Mume has long since cut down his mango trees and replaced his peanut, sorghum, corn and coffee plants with khat.

“Khat needs more attention”, notably a lot of water, “but we make more money”, explains the septuagenarian in his field of a few hectares. “But right now, it’s not worth it.”

At the exit of Awedaye, the shrubs in Hawa’s field now exceed two meters, because the fifty-year-old admits that she no longer harvests the leaves at the moment.

Prices are too low, she says, and her last delivery of 1.5 kg did not find buyers among market traders.

“When the year is good, you can earn 150,000 birr (around $2,600),” she says. A significant sum considering the very low salaries in Ethiopia.

But since September, “we have only sold 30 kg”, compared to nearly 200 kg in good years, she laments.

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