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Why hungry Yemenis choose to chew

Relief comes in a pink plastic bag filled with narcotic twigs that 90% of Yemeni men, and 70% of women, cram into their cheeks.

Happiness here is a lump of green mush that's a tennis ball that's masticated in public.

There's no shame attached to getting high on khat. Its effects have been lost to amphetamines. It feels like grassy banana skin.

The Ministry of Agriculture further believes that it is a low-priced crop.

Many officials believe that these figures may be woefully low – some studies, cited by the United Nations, suggest that 60% of Yemen's farmland is given over to khat.

 Khat grows in the mountains of Yemen.

And anecdotally, on a 2,500-mile (4,000km) drive around the Houthi-held north of the country, which is by civil war, it is very clear that khat (Catha Edulis) is the region's preferred crop.

 CNN exposes systematic abuse of aid in Yemen

Which is not the only one of the world's food programs? 12 million Yemenis this year.

Even khat dealers think that it's silly for a nation, which is dangerously short of food, to become an inedible narcotic.

Mohammed Sulwei is acknowledged by fellow khat dealers in Sana'a, as the purveyor of the main drug market's finest inebriant.

A pink bag weighing about a pound and a half of the best hedge-like twigs, brought in daily, goes for 25,000 yemeni riyals, that's about $ 50.

 Khat dealer Mohammed Sulwei sells the top end, but even he does not make any sense of buying drugs instead of food.

The cheapest khat he sells goes for $ 5 a bag, although the lowest quality fetches about $ 2.50 elsewhere.

I ask him, "Do you think that makes sense for Yemen, that's no food, for everyone to chew?"

He replied: "No." And went on to say that he had no problem.

Nearby, Hussein al Jebri guides a gleaming silver 4×4 through a growing crowd of khat buyers haggling with salesmen who dispose of their drugs from elevated stalls.

 Young and old frequent The market stalls selling khat in the capital, Sanaa.
 Cheeks bulging with khat are Here, armed supporters of the Houthis chew while at a rally in Sana'a in 2015.

"While attaining a state of subjective well-being, the chewers feel an increase in alertness and energy together with enhanced depth of perception.

But: "They were progressively replaced by mild dysphoria, sedation, anxiety, reactive depression, insomnia and anorexia."


Khat is harvested at dawn and distributed across the entire country by a network of high-speed pickup trucks driven at terrifying speeds so the drug can be brought to market before it wilts Yemen's government.

 Yemeni harvest khat on a farm. </p>
<div class=
 Yemeni harvest khat on a farm on the outskirts of Sanaa in 2016.

Yemeni is on getting over the morning's downer, g

The country is in the grip of a humanitarian crisis. The WFP says it's "one step away" from famine.

In Abs, not far from the border of Saudi Arabia, where there are millions of people in the country,

In the local hospital, children with ill health are poorly fed energy to survive. Chest infections and diarrhea threatening to kill stick-thin toddlers and children.

Outside, the khat trade is brisk. And the acacia trees that pepper the scrubland beyond bloom with snares in their thorns.

We asked Hussin Al-Ezzi, the deputy foreign minister of rebel Houthi government: "Why should we, the international community, send food to Yemen – north and south – when the whole country is walking around with a drug in their mouth? "

" Hussin al-Ezzi agreed khat chewing. "

" It's been used as a social tradition and has nothing to do with aid. " what a bad habit but said people's choice to buy khat emergency food had nothing to do with Yemen's need for aid.

We pressed on: "It's very simple. The minister said: "I agree with you, this is a bad habit that we should get rid of. This is indisputable." But there's no sign that khat cultivation is anything but burgeoning.

Magnificent peaks and ridges thick with woodland over Shaneen village, three hours east of Sana'a. Verdant green, choked with khat trees.

Farmers there said that 20 years ago their fields were full of wheat.

Mounir al Rubaii is one of the farmers who depend on khat.

"Khat is the top crop because the other is not good," he said.

 Farmer Mounir al Rubaii says khat is the only crop that generates a profit.

"We can only make a profit from khat Crops do not cover our home expenses. "This is the only crop that would cover our daily and annual expenses."

With the vast majority of Yemenis using the drug, that's not surprising.

But it's an addiction that's enabled by humanitarian aid. The Yemeni government recently estimated that the khat industry was worth about $ 12 billion to the country.

CNN's Sarah El Sirgany and Brice Lainé contributed to this story. [1969002]
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