Yemeni Coffee: Past, Present, & Future
Over this past summer, I conducted research virtually with Dr. Heather Sharkey of the Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations (NELC) department, as well as three other PURM students. During this time, we assisted Dr. Sharkey in her preparations for a new book that would convey Middle Eastern history through fifteen foods. In addition, to connect the overarching topic with our personal interests, we each prepared individual projects focused on an ingredient prominent in Middle Eastern history.
When I learned that the global coffee trade originated in Yemen, I was curious to learn the background on Yemeni coffee and if it was still prominent today. Sadly, though once thriving, the Yemeni coffee market is suffering due to the country’s severe crises in the form of civil war, food shortages, water scarcity, and has been further devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Through my research, I discovered coffee’s deep roots in Yemen and determined the factors that have resulted in Yemeni coffee’s legendary reputation among connoisseurs. When surveying the industry’s current state, I also learned that khat, a stimulant plant that when chewed produces amphetamine-like effects, has posed a major threat to coffee's cultivation in the country. As khat is widely used in Yemen and produces a regular crop, it is seen to have more domestic potential than coffee, and thus deemed more reliable. Unfortunately, in addition to causing widespread dependence among civilians, khat is occupying a major portion of Yemen’s valuable cash crop land and draining much of the country’s limited water supplies.
Thankfully, there are multiple companies, such as ‘Al-Mokha’ and ‘Port of Mokha’, working to share the treasure of Yemeni coffee with the world, while also concurrently incorporating humanitarian initiatives in their work. In conclusion, though the Yemeni coffee market faces several challenges today, I believe my research has determined that the industry has immense potential and could help rescue Yemen and its people from the current catastrophe.
Nadia, your poster looks great, your presentation is interesting, and you can be proud of these results! You should consider trying to write this up into an article and submitting it for publication in an undergraduate research journal.
I once attended a lecture on the decline of yemeni coffee as a result of the country's conflicts, and I'm so happy to see you researched this topic. And by doing so, you've brought awareness to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and I hope people learn from your work!
Really really interesting!
Hi Nadia! I think you did such a great job with your research and I really appreciate that you were able to find and draw out the specific challenges that Yemen's coffee industry is facing. Congratulations!!
Intersection with current affairs
Hi Nadia, this is very interesting research! I did not know about the effects of khat or its domestic popularity in Yemen. With your research in mind, I am curious as to how the balance between coffee and khat production has been shaped (and will continue to be shaped) by the ongoing war and subsequent intervention from other states such as Saudi Arabia. Does the scholarship on the subject anticipate that coffee would indeed be a more stable source of revenue (and better allocation of limited agricultural resources) than khat in the near and far future, given these regional challenges?
I remember learning about the struggles between khat production and water supply in Yemen from a class in NELC I took last year, I'm glad you pursued further research into the topic! I wonder if there would be a way to minimize khat consumption, lowering the demand so farmers may not be so interested in growing khat for its monetary value. I feel like unless there was some campaign for harmful effects a substance might have, there would be no reason for people to stop consuming khat -- and it doesn't look like there's any potential harm in consuming right now. An international campaign of coffee does seem like the most effective solution -- it could raise the capital of it and entice farmers to invest in growing coffee over khat.