Khat farmers in different parts of the country are requesting President Museveni to consider their plea regarding the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Bill, 2023.
The recent approval of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Bill, 2023, by Parliament has cast a shadow of uncertainty over khat farmers and dealers across the nation.
This bill aims to classify khat farming as a criminal activity, leading to concerns among those involved about the potential repercussions on their livelihoods.
The bill is currently awaiting President Museveni’s decision.
Various associations from across the country have united in their efforts to petition President Museveni, urging him to exclude khat, also known as miraa locally, from the list of narcotic drugs in the bill. They have also warned that they may take the government to court if their plea is not heard.
The Constitutional Court’s nullification of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 2015 in May was a result of a petition by the Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association against the Attorney General, stating that it was passed without a quorum in Parliament.
Despite this setback, the government has reintroduced the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Bill, 2023, with stricter measures against those involved in narcotics.
The potential consequences of this bill becoming law are expected to be felt in several districts, including Kabarole, Wakiso, Arua, and Butambala, where khat has been cultivated extensively for many years. Farmers argue that the law will significantly impact their sources of income.
Vincent Kizito, the chairperson of the Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association, stated that they plan to petition the President, requesting him not to assent to the bill. If their petition is rejected, their next course of action would be to challenge the enacted law in the Constitutional Court.
According to Kizito, the legislators did not consult khat farmers, even though scientific research suggests that khat has no adverse effects on human health. He warned that the bill’s passage would jeopardize the livelihoods of over 8 million khat beneficiaries in the country.
The parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, during the bill’s processing, met and received written submissions from 17 institutions, individuals, and organizations, including the Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers’ Association Limited.
Khat farmers are urging Members of Parliament to reclassify khat if the bill is returned to Parliament, highlighting its medicinal and recreational uses.
Idd Ssentongo, the chairperson of Mirembe Village in Butambala District and a khat farmer, emphasized that over 800 residents depend on khat cultivation for survival and expressed concern about potential job loss if the law is enacted.
Khat farmer Agnes Katushabe from Kibasi Town Council in Kabarole District called on the President to consult with farmers and provide alternative sources of income if he signs the bill into law.
Katushabe mentioned that khat farmers in Kabarole have decided to petition the President to express their dissatisfaction with the bill, citing the positive economic impact of khat on their lives.
In Kabarole, where tea farming is a major economic activity, some tea farmers have started intercropping tea gardens with khat due to fluctuating tea prices.
Geoffrey Twesigomwe, a farmer with a four-acre khat plantation in Kibasi Village, Kabarole, highlighted the crop’s profitability compared to other cash crops. He warned that farmers and their families might resort to criminal activities if their livelihoods are disrupted.
The bill has stirred a debate about the effects of khat consumption. While it is argued to combat fatigue, increase productivity, and maintain alertness during long working hours, it is also associated with negative effects such as loss of appetite, oral health issues, and mood swings, according to a report from the parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs.
Medical experts have voiced concerns about khat dependency and its potential long-term effects on health, including reproductive problems, cancer, and sleep disorders.
The bill imposes stringent penalties, including hefty fines and life imprisonment for individuals involved in trafficking narcotic substances. It also addresses the supply of narcotic substances to children without medical justification, imposing similar penalties.
Property owners can be fined for land used in prohibited plant cultivation, and obstruction of police officers during inspections can incur fines, imprisonment, or both.
The government is also authorized to seize properties acquired using proceeds from narcotic sales.
Cultivating the specified plant requires a license, with first-time offenders facing fines and second-time offenders facing life imprisonment.
Some Members of Parliament have expressed concerns about the bill, suggesting that it may have far-reaching consequences for those involved in khat farming. They argue that the government should focus on addressing substances with more adverse effects.
The future remains uncertain for khat farmers as they await President Museveni’s decision on the bill.