Author: Gebissa, Ezekiel B., email@example.com Title: "Consumption, Contraband and Commodification: A History of Khat in Harerge, Ethiopia, c.1930-1991" Date: 1997 Institution: Michigan State University Advisor: Harold Marcus Degree: Ph.D.
Abstract: During the nineteenth-century, Harer evolved as a major commercial center in eastern Ethiopia, owing to its location at the cross-roads of trading routes and its political strength as an independent state. Agriculture was the primary occupation of the Hareri, the city-dwellers, who cultivated fruit trees, coffee, khat (catha edulis), spice trees and vegetables in gardens around their walled-city. Further away, Oromo farmers cultivated cereal crops such as sorghum, maize, wheat, and barley, sufficient for their own subsistence, and supplied the city with exportable commodities such as ivory, ghee, coffee, tobacco and so forth.
The arrival of a railway to the foothills of the Harer highlands in 1902, the construction of road networks and the introduction of commercial trucking in the 1920s and 1930s, and the inauguration air-transportation in the late 1940s, initiated changes in the patterns of economic activities described above. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, owing to faster transport, khat had become the chief cash crop of the region, out-competing other crops for land, labor and capital. In the 1970s, khat was the fastest-growing and the most profitable occupation involving millions of farmers, traders and other service-providers in the whole region.
This study argues that the change in the local system of production was spurred by land scarcity caused by high population growth. In the absence of other economic sectors which could absorb the region's demographic surplus, farmers increased their khat fields so that they could use the proceeds from khat sales to purchase nonfarm commodities, pay taxes and make productivity investments. Farmers who initially moved to towns to retail khat used their profits to start nonfarm occupations.
From the mid-1970s on, state intervention was responsible for the accelerated pace of change. The Ethiopian government monopolized agricultural marketing and imposed restrictions on the importation of consumer goods, thereby creating a critical shortage of consumer goods. Khat and other primary goods were smuggled out and the profit from their sales was used to smuggle the commodities in short supply. The result was an unprecedented growth in cross-border trade. In the 1980s, the production and marketing of khat turned out to be a growth industry which employed a large section of Harerge's population.
In sum, this dissertation accounts for the commodification of khat and the consequent transformation of the political economy of the Harerge region. By carefully collating interview data with Ethiopian and European archival sources and bringing together the thinkings of several authorities on peasant production and parallel markets, the study traces changes in the patterns of khat production, marketing and consumption, analyzes farmers' responses to changes in the physical, political and economic environments, and evaluates the role of the shrub in the expansion of contraband trade.
Return to the H-AFRICA Home Page.