Chat (Catha edulis): a socio economic crop in Harar Region, Eastern Ethiopia
© Kandari et al.; licensee Springer. 2014
Received: 6 August 2014
Accepted: 23 September 2014
Published: 3 October 2014
Chat (Catha edulis) is an important perennial crop and its leaves are chewed for a stimulating effect. It is widely cultivated in the Ethiopian highlands of Oromia region and is figured as Ethiopia’s second largest foreign exchange earner. Its cultivation accounts for about 70% of farmer’s income in the study area. The common effect of its consumption leads to insomnia, a condition that the users sometimes try to overcome with sedatives or alcohol. The present study is an attempt to survey and assess the impact of crop on the community. It has been observed to implicate health problems, reduces savings and nutritional standards of the family members. The chat yields in the area ranges from 1500–1800 kg/ha through monoculture. During the study, the average monthly income of the family practicing chat cultivation was from Birr 8, 533.00 to 13, 166.00 kg/ha per year in Baate and Genede cultivating areas. When the average cost per/ha was rupees 60/kg. The present study shows that during the recent past, leaf consumption has increased significantly. Chat growers are not only producers but also traders and consumers. Its consumption has become a widespread habit from secondary schools. Highest number of consumers was found to be among drivers followed by students and shopkeepers. The consumption of the plant is not considered a taboo but on contrary a status symbol in the region. It has no legal or moral implications and is considered as a part of custom and habit of local people. High value cash crop like vegetables and orchard fruits needs to be used as a replacement for chat which could be a regular source of income to farmers. Alternative sources of income for farmers needs to be scientifically worked out and proposed keeping in view the proportion of agricultural land reserved under chat cultivation and to increase the production of food grains being produced.
Many users report that feeling of happiness associated with better thinking capacity. Currently, majority of the farmers are involved in chat cultivation in this region. It is widely enjoyed by both male and females and is commonly used for social recreation and family ceremonies. Occupational groups such as motor vehicle and truck drivers chew plant leaves regularly during long distance driving and admit that it keeps them alert and awake. A significant number of students have also been observed to consume the leaves to remain alert especially during examination periods. There is also a specific usage of this plant by the special sections of the community like craftsmen and workers in small scale industries use it to reduce physical fatigue and traditional healers to heal ailments. The plant is interpreted as a stimulant of physical and psychological functions. Its psychic influence depends on its active ingredients that have a stimulating and cuphoric effect. The plant is chewed for a stimulating effect that is similar to that of amphetamine. Cathinone, found in fresh leaves is listed as a schedule I drug in the United States in the same group as heroin and cocaine (Brooks 1997). During maturation and decomposition of the plant, cathinone is converted to cathine, a Schedule IV drug (legal). In fact, for a variety of reasons, the habit of chat consumption is deeply rooted in social and cultural traditions of Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Djibouti (Getachew 1996; Bali 1997; Klingele 1998). The present study is an attempt to survey and assess the impact of crop on the community.
Materials and methods
Selection of informants
A reconnaissance survey was undertaken during 2011–2012 in the market and nearby adjoining area of Harar region i.e., Baate and Gendaje and where the plant is commonly sold. During the survey, attempts were made to collect all possible information regarding the traditional and ethnobotanical use of plant in the region; mode of usage and part of plant used. A semi-structured questionnaire survey with focused group discussion (FGD) were conducted with different groups of people i.e., among all categories of people. Most of the local people identified during the field survey were in the age category of 20–40 and > 50 years who were habitual and willing consumers. All of them were familiar with the use of the plant for cultivation and its subsequent consumption pattern.
Results and discussion
Botany and phenology of the Catha edulis plant
Socio-economic effect and expansion of chat production
Socio-economic dependency of people on chat
Number of families members involved in chat business
3.5 ± 0.88
4.28 ± 0.821
Number of families have their own land
33.3 ± 0.166
21.42 ± 0.10
Working hrs per day
14.8 ± 0.77
14.4 ± 0.77
131, 66.00 ± 5296
8,533.00 ± 890.21
Price of one bunch of chat
58 ± 9.27
41.32 ± 6.412
Provision of cash crop which provides assured income to the farmers throughout the year at regular intervals.
Increase in goat population which could be raised with the little inputs that brings in revenue through meat sales during festive periods.
Raising employment opportunities through domestic and international trade along with increased transportation.
Easy availability of labour.
Negligible need for irregular and vital inputs.
Easy credit availability.
It enjoys a status of important foreign exchange earner.
The crop assured elevated social status for the producers.
Impact and response of society and consequences
Development of withdrawal symptoms, comprising heavy and sinking sensatation following habit of prolonged consumption of chat seems to surfacing among consumers. The frequency of lethargy, mild depression, slight trembling and recurrent bad dreams prompt them to have second thoughts about its consumption. A serious consideration is that, its use may endanger health, thereby resulting in anorexia leading to malnutrition with subsequent susceptibility to infectious diseases. As a result of area expansion under this plant, the farmers need to buy cereals now to meet their food requirements and thus its production has resulted in problem of food insecurity in the region. The farmers’ personal production of food crops may last for 6–7 months only. Only about 51% of the households have enough food throughout the year. Chat consumption negatively affects the working capacity of people because they tend to be slow in work, show lethargy, less number of working hours, take frequent rests, spend time chewing the leaves, and are generally more careless and found loitering about aimlessly in the market. Its consumption has become a common habit among the population above 13 years of age including the secondary school students. Consumers spend a high portion of their income to purchase these leaves which leads to a serious under nourishment of the poor people leading to social consequences. The number of goat population has increased in the current farming system due to chat foliage availability and less dependence on crop residues for feed along with different fodder requirements. The labour requirement for chat cultivation is lower than cereal mono-cropping with total volume of employment rising due to ancillary post harvest activities, trade and transportation. In Somalia, it is reported that the plant consumption is promoting different types of criminal activities (Elmi et al. 1987).
Its increased popularity however has brought in important social problems in its wake
Health problem like mild depression and trembling
Malnutrition and susceptibility to infectious diseases
Low food grain production resulting in increased dependence on market for food grains.
Affected chewing capacity of people accompanied with lethargy
Affected school children resulting in school dropouts
Increase in criminal activities
Decrease in area of cultivation under cereal crops with subsequent drop in production of food grains.
Due to fall in area under fodder crops the livestock population along with milk production has been on a downswing
The only positive effect of chat production is higher income generation for farmers, more employment generation to the rural people engaged in chat transportation and trade related activities.
Chat expansion on the farming system
It has been observed that production of this crop in the study area has expanded to almost 55% of the cultivated area in Harar which includes intercropping with maize and (to some extent with) sorghum. In the intercropping category, this plant has been found to have the largest share of land resulting in decreases in yield of maize and total cereal production in the area. The expansion of area under chat production has also changed the composition of livestock system in the region due to decreased fodder availability and less interest in livestock raising. The need for drought animals like oxen has reduced in the ongoing pattern of chat-based cultivation system. Further, fodder availability has been reduced because chat occupies the larger share of the land coupled with low animal population. Fodder species like Erythrina abyssinica, Sesbania sesban and Leucaena leucocephala are completely replaced or removed. Shifts in the cropping pattern also resulted in decreased number of cows with decreasing milch cattle and the milk availability in the market is currently on the downswing.
In the area surveyed rainfed farming is undertaken and farmers need food crop for their annual domestic consumption needs for which Sorghum and sweet potato is cultivated. Maize is sometimes also cultivated instead of Sorghum depending upon seed availability. Sorghum, corn and sweet potatoes are generally accepted for intercropping with chat which is a cash crop. This is possible as these plants are so spaced that they leave much area in between the rows (Figure 2). The preparation of the seedbed required for intercropping with Sorghum provides higher and additional benefits. Thus, the intercropping is practiced to improve the economy of the farmers. On the other, chat leaves could be collected and marketed at regular intervals unlike most agricultural crops that are seasonal which is a welcome source of the otherwise poor cultivation. Vegetables crops are not preferred in this region and are cultivated where water is available.
The active ingredient of chat responsible for its psycho stimulant effect is an alkaloid chemical known as cathionine, which is structurally and chemically similar to d-amphetamine and cathine a milder form of cathionine. Cathionine is a highly potent stimulant, which produces sympathomimetic and central nervous system stimulation analogous to the effect of amphetamine. Fresh leaves contain both ingredients: those left unrefrigerated beyond 48 hours would contain only cathine, and it supports user’s preference for fresh leaves. The plant loses its potency after 48 hours. The results of various in-vivo and in-vitro experiments indicated that the substance could be considered as a natural amphetamine. The active constituent, cathinone, which causes sympatno-mimetic effects and symptoms such as euphoria and hyperactivity, is released with following consumption of leaves.
Cathinone has analogous mechanisms of action with pharmacological properties that are reminiscent of those induced by amphetamine, i.e. anorexia as well as hypermotility (Valterio and Kalix 1982). In fact, it is now being referred to as a “natural amphetamine” and its effects in animals correspond to those observed in human consumers (Alem et al. 1999). The World Health Organization (WHO) has included and reported cathinone in its list of controlled drugs and equivalent to amphetamine abuse (WHO 1980; Kalix 1981). The plant leaves are considered rich in ascorbic acid, which minimizes the undesirable side-effects of its chewing. By modulating catecholaminergic activity or transmission of dopamine, ascorbic acid acts as an antidote to the effects of amphetamine (Broody 2002; Gulley and Rebec 1999). It is assumed that there is an adequate quantity of ascorbic acid in the leaves, which is released from the leaf matrix by mastication and becomes bio-available. Ascorbic acid, a well-known antidote against amphetamine and amphetamine-like substances, was reported to reach as much as 325 mg/100 g leaf of chat (Krikorian and Getahun 1973).
In light of World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation, the problems associated with chat-chewing for the moment should be considered in a manner similar to amphetamine abuse. Hence, it is the psychotropic and mind-altering drug type whose use could possibly constitute risk behavior in the amplification of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in countries like Ethiopia, where the habit is widespread (Abebe et al. 2005).
Keeping in view the adverse side effect of consuming chat at fall out on the health of younger generation of the region, it is imperative that crucial step be undertaken for production and consumption of this plant.
Legislation need to be enforced for confining its cultivation to a particular region.
Government machinery needs to be in place for collection of harvest at market support price and for meeting exports.
Proper guidelines should be placed for its consumption. Younger generation should be prohibited from consuming it
Providing education for the students to stay away from its consumption by highlighting its side effects.
Establishing government laboratories for analysing the plant and giving the task of enforcing ban on its consumption by younger generations.
Establishing chat free areas in the country.
Creating revenue earning demonstration areas of vegetable and flower cultivation to wean away the farmers from the chat.
In Ethiopia, farmers have few alternative sources of income with similar profitability. Control on chat will therefore have to address both supply and demand. Alternative sources of income for farmers need to be designed and thoroughly investigated while providing other appropriate options. Education and awareness programs about consumption and its negative consequences may reduce the demand for chat.
From the current study, it is concluded that, chat production is expanding rapidly around Harar region, particularly at the expense of important cereal crops. The economic benefits and easy cultivation of the crop is a strong compelling reason for its expansion and increasing the income nearly 70% of farmers of the region. The crop being perennial, reduces the frequency of ploughing i.e., once in three months or yearly. Therefore, farmers are interested to cultivate it instead of food crops and to have more goats instead of oxen. Goats need less fodder and are more income generating. Chat producers become its perpetual users and its consumption is widespread among locals (both male and female) and even students. The expansion of this crop production in Ethiopia may bring considerable social and economic risks in the longer run as earnings totally depend as the plant is banned in many other countries. The consumption of this crop generates health problem and reduces the productivity in terms of work efficiency and number of working hours. The increased use of the plants needs to be monitored and controlled particularly among the younger generation who are being otherwise talked into imaginary well being. It is a evident from this study that the plant is very popular among all age group of people approached. The consumption is not common among people beyond 60 years of age. It has been supplementing the income of farmers in the absence of other cash crops. The crop now enjoys a well developed flourishing market which is instrumental in reducing poverty in the area.
Written informed consent was obtained for the publication of this report and any accompanying images.
Authors are thankful to Haramaya University for extending facilities for study and to local people and chat consumers of the region who constituted the essential components of the study.
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