Food Crisis Threaten Yemen’s Stability [Archives:2008/1149/Business & Economy]

April 24 2008

By: YemenTimes Staff
The skyrocketing prices of wheat, cereals, and other grains have had a tremendous impact on populations reliant on the international markets to supply the needed grains, and Yemen has been affected significantly where the price of a 50-kg sack of wheat has increased from 3300 in the end of 2007 to over 7200 today. This increase affects primarily families which spend most of their income on basic foods and necessities, and now having to stretch their budgets more in order to be able to continue to afford buying the same quantities of food.

In explaining the bigger picture, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicated that the growth in global demand for grains is increasing by 3 %, while production is at lower rates, and have increased to 2.6% this year as grain producing countries slightly increase their grain plantations. This indicates that the gap in supply will continue to push the prices of grain higher, forcing grain importing countries like Yemen to rather pay a bigger bill or start searching for other sources of grain, including reliance on domestic production.

Indeed, several measures in that front mainly driven by the high prices of wheat and grains has resulted in increasing domestic production of grains from 730 thousand tones in 2006 to over 940 thousand tones in 2007, with a direction to continue increasing production and yield per acre of agricultural land. However, Yemen's imports of wheat have doubled since 2004, while the percentage of domestic production of grains is providing the local market with around 8 % of the total market demand of grains.

This indicates that there is a long way to go until Yemen decreases it dependence on the international market for supplying the Yemeni consumers with their grain demands, thereby making Yemen more vulnerable to the shocks of the international markets and the increasing costs of grains, which have resulted in considerable economic hardships for the people of Yemen.

Revival of Yemen's Agriculture

There are approximately 1.5 million households in rural Yemen, 79 percent of which depend on farming or livestock as the prime source of income-generation, constituting 15 percent of the economic production of the country. This means that 1.18 million households produce 21 percent of the non-oil economic production while the other 1 million households are responsible for the reminder economic activity. Paradoxically, agriculture employs 55 percent of the workforce in producing the 15 percent of non-oil economic activity.

The process of agricultural production in Yemen is highly subjective to the availability of water resources as well as types of irrigation, for example the middle highlands are dependent on rainfall receiving an average annual rainfall of 500 to 800 mm resulting in the cultivation of 44 percent of the area, representing 61 percent of the total farms in Yemen, while other areas such as the Tehama region receive an average annual rainfall of 50 to 100 mm, resulting in cultivating 26 percent of the area and representing 10 percent of the total farms in Yemen. Therefore, rain is key factor with regards to the quantity of production. This pattern of agricultural production also explains the population concentration in the middle highlands, constituting slightly over half the population of the country.

Cereals constitute 50 percent of agricultural production, with the governorates of Hodieda, Dhamar, and Hajja leading the way, depending on rainfall to play a prime factor in determining the quantity of output. However other measures have been put in place to help improve production of cereals, including using genetically modified crops, improved irrigation, harvesting, and extension services provision to farmers, and the cultivation of new lands to be used for agricultural purposes. However, the prime risk which faces domestic cereal production if the availability of water resources and rainfall.

Dependence on Rainfall

The currently experiences draught is raising concerns among farmers regarding this agricultural season during the summer of 2008, where rainfall is usually expected in the beginning of April in order to start plantations, farmers across the country are worries if a limited amount of rainfall this year will affect not only their production in Yemen, but will push the price of wheat higher in the domestic and international market, thereby resulting in more economic hardships, famine, and instability in the country.

Livestock and fishing also provide importance sources of rural incomes: 91 percent of all households involved in agriculture hold some kind of livestock, whether it is cattle, sheep, goats, camels or chickens. FAO indicates that the growth rate of the volume of livestock products reaches 5 percent per annum, making livestock products one of the most important sources of income and key to improving livelihoods in rural Yemen.