After the political crisis that gripped Madagascar in 2009, global prices of agricultural commodities fell, and farmers in the island’s northern peninsular of Diego Suarez are slowly moving on to Khat farming.
Rice, cassava, coffee, cocoa and potatoes were for years the staple of production but today Khat fields have sprung up everywhere.
“The farmers have decided to stop farming vegetables, and they are now all planting khat, because it brings in more money than planting vegetables,” said one resident called Phillipe.
Khat, a mild stimulant is a flowering plant native to East Africa, commonly grown in the slopes of Mt. Kenya where its called Miraa. It contains cathinone, an amphetamine-like ingredient making it a popular form of stimulant.
Khat users describe a mildly euphoric feeling when they chew leaves from the plant over a period of several hours. It is also moderately addictive.
Joffreville has around 5000 residents, and an estimated 70 percent of them consume Khat. Today the town produces around 30 percent of the khat that is consumed in the region of Diego Suarez.
Local authorities say the plant’s quick turn over is one of the reasons farmers grow it over other crops – demand is high and so are the returns.
Khat vendor, Adeline Velo Soamanjary has been selling the plant for the last fours years.
She says she makes between 13 to 20 US dollars a day.
“I can now send my children to a better school, a private school and I can also afford to buy nice things for my house,” she said.
Malagasy authorities recently announced plans to put in place measures to curb the production of khat because of it’s negative effects, but analysts say the cash-strapped government is too busy trying to rebuild its economy to put in place any effective policies any time soon.