The controversy over chewing chat has become a global issue as two Ethiopian researchers take to an international conference in Sweden the case for the plant that is a popular stimulant in the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.
Dechasaa Lammessa, a food security expert for the U.N.'s Organization for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs who works in Ethiopia's Oromiya region, says in 15 years he has seen chat help many farmers confronted with soil erosion and periods of famine, particularly in the Hararghe zone of eastern Ethiopia. In recent years, it has become the fourth-highest revenue producer among Ethiopian agricultural exports, after coffee, leather and pulses. Dechasaa also says it has social benefits as a mild stimulant. Some people believe it has medicinal benefits when rubbed on sores.
Kettering State University history professor Izkael Gabbisa says his research shows that no international organization has proven chat harmful. Izkael will publish a book on the subject in two months. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not determined it harmful, he says, although some local law enforcement agencies in the United States have made it unlawful.Dechasaa and Izkael discussed the global implications of their research with Nigusu Negawo of the Afan Oromo service.