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This study analyses the expansion of khat production in relation to forest decline in the Wondo Genet area in south-central Ethiopia. By assessing spatial variables and social factors, and using remote sensing and social survey techniques, the extent to which this new cash crop contributes to deforestation is explored.

The results indicate that khat has expanded rapidly in terms of land area used for its production at forest frontiers, in isolated forest patches and within farmland since the mid-1980s. This is mainly due to high economic advantage, high market demand and favourable means of transport as well as the existence of a cohesive trade network. Moreover, the properties of the crop also facilitate expansion. The increased production of khat appears to be a result of conscious choice and rational decisions made by male farmers, regardless of religious, cultural and policy discouragement and despite khat's possible negative impact on livelihood security.

Although it is found that khat expansion does not explain forest decline in the study area per se, it plays an important role in enhancing multifaceted interaction between people and forest. The expansion influences forest decline directly by conversion, and indirectly through increased human activity in proximity to forests. The conversion has resulted in a reduction of forest area, resilience and regeneration. Khat production has changed human settlement patterns, suppressed production of other crops and influenced women's income negatively. These aspects increase the demand for wood and it renders the forest an important source of supplementary incomes. Khat production may create tension, resulting from a conflict in interest between sustaining the native forests, with subsequent environmental benefits for the larger social group, and the economically driven choice land use made by khat farmers.
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Keywords: Ethiopia; Wondo Genet; cash crop; deforestation; human–environment interaction; khat

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Wondo Genet College of Forestry and Natural Resources, Hawassa University, P.O. Box 683, Shashemene, Ethiopia., Email: [email protected] 2: Dept. of Human Geography, Stockholm University, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden., Email: [email protected]

Publication date: June 1, 2008

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