Lisa L. Gezon
Khat in Biocultural and Socioeconomic Perspective
Left Coast Press 2012
New Books in African StudiesNew Books in AnthropologyNew Books in MedicineNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books Network November 28, 2014 Dr. Francesco Isolani
Khat, the fresh leaves of the plant Catha edulis, is a mild psycho-stimulant. It has been consumed in Yemen, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia for over one thousand years. Khat consumption is an important part of Yemeni social and political life. During the early part of the twentieth century, Yemeni dockworkers brought khat to Madagascar, where other members of the Malagasy population have adopted its use.
In her excellent book Drug Effects: Khat in Biocultural and Socioeconomic Perspective (Left Coast Press, 2012), Lisa L. Gezon, Professor and Chair in the Department of Anthropology, University of West Georgia, analyzes the production and consumption of Khat on the island nation of Madagascar. Taking a cultural, medical, and anthropological approach, Gezon looks at the use of khat in pharmacological, cultural, political, economic and environmental contexts.As a student of plant drugs/medicines/intoxicants, her summary of the manner in which khat’s effects have been mischaracterized by many so called experts has echoes of reefer madness inspired characterizations of cannabis and its users.Like so many drugs, khat is a powerful force in the local economy, and the factors that have allowed khat to provide income for small hold farmers rather than becoming part of a centralized and commercial monoculture are worthy of further analysis.
In addition to teaching me about the specifics of khat consumption in Madagascar, the background material provided a great primer on CMA approaches to substance use, as well as on the history, pharmacology and policy surrounding Catha edulis.
I have been thinking a great deal about the economic forces that influence the consumption and availability of drugs.There are similarities and differences between poppy production in Afghanistan or the Golden Triangle, cannabis production in the Emerald Triangle, and khat production in Madagascar.The peaceful and widely distributed economic benefits of smallholder farming on Madagascar make this study particularly fascinating.
Lisa Gezon was a pleasure to interview, and was very patient with my still developing interviewing skills.Her research included extensive field work as well as research, and the book is almost encyclopedic in its synthesis of the literature, the findings of her studies as well as her excellent and insightful analysis.