One in every seven working Yemeni is employed in producing and distributing qat, making it the largest single source of rural income and the second largest source of employment in the country after the agriculture and herding sector, exceeding even the public sector, according to the World Bank.
Many of Yemen's poorest families admit to spending over half their earnings on the leaf.
"Qat is the biggest market in Yemen, bigger than oil, bigger than anything," said Abdulrahman Al-Iryani, Yemen's former water minister and founder of 'qat uprooting', a charity which supports farmers in replacing qat shrubs with coffee plants.
qat is entwined in all of Yemen's problems
the cultivation of qat - the least taxed, most subsidized and fastest-growing cash crop in Yemen - consumes 40 percent of irrigated farming land
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One "daily bag" that can be consumed by one person in one day requires hundreds of litres of waters to produce
In 1972, then-Prime Minister Mohsin Al-Aini forbade qat-chewing by public servants during working hours and banned its cultivation on lands run by state-controlled religious trusts.
He received death threats from tribesmen and qat farm owners around Sanaa. Many Yemenis suspect his eventual dismissal from office three months later was in large part due to his push.
"As water prices go up, the competition drives more and more people toward farming qat which in turn uses up even more water. If the spread of qat farms continues like this soon all our arable land will be used to grow qat."
After the Yemeni Parliament began the year by passing new legislation allowing Saleh to run for the presidency ad infinitum, Saleh announced his three famous “No’s” a month later: no presidency forever, no running for elections again and no inherited presidency, meaning that his son, who was being groomed for succession, and who is the leader of the Republican Guard, will not succeed his father.
Saleh’s concessions failed to appease those itching for immediate change, however, and February 3 witnessed the first massive demonstrations. Taking place in more than 17 governates, the protests organized by the JMP called for political and economic reforms and a fair distribution of wealth. Up until this point, demands for Saleh to step down had not been made. The JMP called an end to the demonstrations but groups of young people remained in Sanaa’s squares demanding Saleh’s departure. These unknown youth were the catalyst of Yemen’s continuous uprisings for the next nine months.