News / Africa

British Ban May Hurt Kenya's Khat Business

British Ban May Hurt Kenya's Khat Businessi
September 04, 2014 4:07 AM
A number of western countries have outlawed khat because of its addictive substances. Britain's decision to join that list has caused concern among khat growers and dealers in Kenya, whose livelihood depends on khat exports. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Zlatica Hoke

Khat is a flowering tree native to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Chewing khat leaves for stimulation and even medicinal purposes has been a social custom in those parts of the world for hundreds of years, and migration has brought it to the West. A number of western countries have outlawed khat because of its addictive substances, and Britain's decision to join that list has caused concern among khat growers and dealers in Kenya, whose livelihood depends on khat exports.

Joseph Mbiti grows khat, or miraa, as it is known here, at his farm in Meru, central Kenya. Even though the British ban is a little more than two months old, he said he already is feeling the consequences. 

"I am a farmer and I depend on khat for my livelihood. Since the ban in Britain took effect, I haven't been able to pay our children's school fees. I don't know what I am going to do. There is still a balance remaining, which we haven't paid," said Mbiti.

The ban has affected others involved in the business of producing and selling khat leaves.

"We used to take 30 pickups with miraa to Nairobi, but now we only have five pickups, meaning more than 20 drivers are jobless and many of the pickups are now just parked here," said a local driver.

Britain's ban on khat has created a glut in local markets, driving down the prices and employment opportunities.

“Many young men who used to package khat in Meru and at the airport are now jobless. The price of khat leaves has gone down drastically because all the khat that was to go to Britain is now sold locally. We are making huge losses," said a trader.

Britain's demand for khat is driven by its large ethnic Somali community. Users say chewing the leaves makes them feel happier, more alert, and more energetic. Some even say it is helpful in fighting gastric ulcers and obesity. 

Opponents say longtime use of khat can damage the brain and lead to addiction that causes social problems, similar to those caused by alcoholism and drug abuse. The World Health Organization has classified khat as a drug of abuse because it can produce mild-to-moderate psychological dependence. Kenyans and others living in countries where khat is legal disagree.

"The fact that they are saying some part of it contains some elements that are banned in the United Kingdom does not mean that the whole plant or the whole miraa is a negative impact to the entire society in the U.K.," said a Nairobi resident.

The ban has caused heated debate in Britain, where critics say it will spark a lucrative illegal trade but supporters say it will help prevent Britain from becoming a hub for the illegal trade to countries where khat is banned. Some Kenyans fear losing a legal job in the khat trade could drive many people to crime.

"Khat helps me educate my children and provide food for my family. I depend on it. This is why I am not involved in crime," said one Kenyan farmer.

Khat is banned in most European countries and in the United States and Canada.

You May Like

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs