Faculty of Agriculture: from development to deterioration [Archives:2006/926/Reportage]

March 6 2006

Walid Al-Boks
In the beginning, the faculty began working from within the Faculty of Commerce premises. In response to a plan by Dr. Nasser Al-Awlaqi and supported by the ATU, Sana'a University embarked on establishing a separate Faculty for Agriculture. The first batch of only seven students enrolled in the faculty 1984-85 and Dr. Al-Awlaqi became the first dean. “I was among seven students who joined the faculty in the mid-'80s and graduated four years later,” Ahmed Al-Touqi said, “The government called 1985 the year of agricultural development.”

Two years later and according to the faculty guide, the number of students joining the faculty multiplied. Accordingly and in line with its agricultural development plans, the government found it appropriate to direct its sights to such a promising sector. President Saleh himself went there in 1986 to inaugurate the educational farm, which has a total area of 25 hectares. The farm included 12 buildings, a water storage tank and cow and sheep fences. A year and half later, actual farm operation, production and research began as to sheep and poultry. Thus, the farm became the main source of animal products like meat and eggs in addition to vegetables for all university staff members and employees. Another building later was added to the farm containing garden plants and another year was spent making dairy and food, but the faculty badly lacked support, as stated by a teacher there. “All of the facilities are impaired due to halting of U.S. support since 1990,” he added.

Synchronized with the first Gulf War in 1990, CCC Company along with Adio-system and Stanley Company left the country after completing the faculty's construction and furnishing it with necessary equipment. In the meantime, a sudden halting of support occurred and the three supporting parties – ATU, SIF and SAB – decided to suspend aid which assisted the faculty's development.

The eruption of the first Gulf War affected bilateral relations between Yemen and Saudi Arabia and Yemen and the United States as well, as Yemen backed Iraq in the war. This resulted in halting all U.S. and Saudi support; thus affecting the Faculty of Agriculture. “Most of the staff who used to teach and work on the farm left the faculty, since they were brought and paid by ATU and Saudi Arabia,” said staff member Dr. Al-Zumair, also among the first batch of students.

Aid vanished along with some faculty employees' hopes, like Al-Touqi who began as a bachelor student in the same faculty. Although granted a scholarship to the U.S., he was compelled by war circumstances to continue his education in a neighboring Arab country, being reluctant to mention its name. According to Al-Touqi, the faculty's future was affected by the war. Only one apparatus called a Spectrum Light remains in service, though affected before them all, while other devices were destroyed or have no qualified staff to work on them.

“They used to take that apparatus to different places around the country where agricultural wadis (valleys) exist so they could apply what was studied theoretically. They used to pay for such journeys,” said a 15-year employee, who refused to give his name, speaking about field visits adopted and supervised by the U.S. support unit. He added, “It was essential that students complete their field training successfully as a partial requirement for obtaining a bachelor's degree in agricultural science. Four weeks of field training were allocated for three accredited hours.”

Mohammed Al-Goubari, who has worked on the farm more than 14 years, shares the same opinion. He describes the farm's situation as deteriorating. “My salary was 2,000 riyals. Over the years, it has increased to 10,000 riyals. However, I don't care because I love this land,” he added.

Al-Goubari, who is illiterate and lost fingers on his right hand, has eight sons who share the farm work. He seems worried about the farm. “It is not green like used to be, except for some patches dedicated for some students' graduation projects. The percentage of well water also has decreased,” he explained.

Mohammed Al-Tahish shares the same worried feelings about the farm's future. “This farm provides teachers with milk, as well as all faculty employees. This is an apiary. They get honey out of it, yet we do not know how,” he added, standing beside a one-story building with closed doors. Honey, milk, eggs, potatoes and meat are all among faculty products, but the percentage of beneficiaries has dwindled remarkably to the extent that it does not go outside the faculty's borders.

“Outer appearances maybe misleading, as the faculty building seems like an equipped and artistic masterpiece,” Al-Zumair said, “It contains eight departments: land, environment, machinery, economics, gardens, woods, corps and animal production, as well as food production industry; however, all are paralyzed.”

Secondary school graduates' avoidance of enrolling in the faculty has caused shock. According to a student affairs department source, the number of students joining the faculty is shrinking. However, to the contrary, the faculty will develop one day. According to Al-Zumair, the Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for the faculty's deterioration. “This ministry demands only consultations or rather viewpoints,” Al-Zumair said. He picked up a pen and a sheet of paper and drew three joined circles, writing 'agricultural guidance' in the first circle, 'agricultural education' in the second and 'agricultural research' in the third. He drew an arrow out from each circle and in front of them he wrote, 'Faculty of Agriculture.' Then, he put the pen aside, smiling and added, “I hope this message is understood.”

What is more saddening is the story circulated about cow deaths caused by a technical employee who prepared medicine in an opposite way when medicating the 11th cow, thus causing their deaths. “More than one teacher passed away during my study at the faculty. It was possible for the university or the faculty to give a hand and get them treated. Here, they don't care about people, let alone cows,” said student Wafa.

Walid Al-Boks is a Yemeni journalist