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The government may have announced this week it will ban khat, but in recent years shipments of the herbal stimulant have poured into the UK from Africa.
One photographer who ventured into a khat packing factory in a deprived district of Nairobi, Kenya, has shared her images of the stimulant’s journey from the city’s backstreets to Britain, where it is popular among Somali communities.
Celeste Hibbert documented Kenyan workers – who depend on UK sales for their welfare – wrapping up the plant into banana leaves and packing it into boxes.
From just one packing depot in Eastleigh, Nairobi, 2,500 boxes of khat are flown to the UK four times a week.
Khat, also known as cathonine, is popular in parts of the Middle East and Africa, where users chew the leaf to release stimulants that produce an amphetamine-like high.
Khat ‘houses’ in Britain have been linked to terrorism, with police targeting those in Woolwich amid fears they are recruiting grounds for Islamic extremists.
Mrs May’s proposed ban means khat will be treated as a class C drug, like anabolic steroids and ketamine.
In Eastleigh, bundles of khat arrive every day at 2pm from a farm around 140 miles away in Meru.
Much of it is bundled up and put into sacks for delivery locally.
Known as ‘Little Mogadishu’, Eastleigh is a Somali suburb of Nairobi and khat is popular with locals.
One local Kenyan trader said: ‘I live outside, not here. Khat is more of a Somali thing, but I have to chew to show people (in Kenya) it is not a bad thing.’
Four days a week thousands of boxes are flown to the UK, mainly for British Somali customers.
A bunch of best quality khat costs around £27 ($40) but bags of its leaves can be bought for just 67p.
The export trade to Europe is monopolised by Somali families, many of whom create links with Somali customers in Britain and initiate deliveries based on trust.
Somalis own the export business in Eastleigh but Kenyan workers are used as cheap labour. International distribution of khat is worth millions.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in the UK reports that more than 2,500 tonnes, worth about £13.8m, was imported to the UK in 2011/12, bringing in £2.8m of tax revenues.