Monday, June 30, 2014

The Goats, the Wadi, and the Wash

My son Zach, an anthropology student, has been studying and researching in Yemen this year. I recently asked him to tell me about the goat photo. I was both fascinated and troubled by his reply. 

"The goats we met while walking down to the Wadi Al-Maraba' from a village called Buni As-Saifee. Two 10-12 year old kids were herding them up the mountainside where they let them crawl along the cliffs and forage while the herders gathered weeds for hay later in the dry season. 

"They mostly sell and use the goats for meat if they have a cow, but recently the drought has been so bad more use them for milk. 

"In some places the removal of qat [a fast-growing tree, the leaves of which have been chewed traditionally for thousands of years for its stimulant effect] has been hard economically, as there are few other crops or trees, especially not coffee, that can handle the hotter and drier conditions in these dryland farms. Some farms were abandoned altogether. 

"This has a domino effect, particularly in the wadi (valley) that is in the middle of the sayl (flash flood drainage). Even if there is a little rain, it all drains from the surrounding mountains into the wadi. If the farms and erosion walls are not maintained, the sayl will easily wash them away, including the house. (People need money to maintain; qat easily provides this.) 

"The eroded material left is not arable and costs way too much to remove, and so one farm is left to the wash, then another and another, until whole parts of the wadi, once some of the most fertile areas, are washed downstream. 

"Then more and more people have to move to cities to work, but many can't. I've encountered a number of goat herders/ex-farmers now living in caves. 

"Qat, for all its controversial alkaloids, is hardy and valuable and seemed to play a critical role in preventing this sad scenario. I would argue that it may be more important for developers to focus on building dams, and then seeing if other things can be grown more economically, rather than ripping out all the qat in a hurry and wondering why there's no soil left to grow coffee or fruit. But such is the disconnect between poor farmers and the politics of those with the power and money to 'save the poor farmers from growing drugs'."

"As I have loved you, so you must love one another." --John 13:34 NIV

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