Food security and Yemen’s agro-economy [Archives:2006/961/Business & Economy]

July 3 2006

Raidan Al-Saqqaf
Agriculture plays a major role in ensuring food security, increasing the gross national product (GNP), and in providing employment for 54 percent of the manpower in the country who either work directly in agricultural production or in the ancillary services to the agricultural sector. Agriculture contributes 20.5 percent to the GNP of the country and constitutes 56.6 percent of Yemen's non-oil exports.

Yemen has an agricultural-based economy and agriculture provides a means of living for up to 73.5 percent of the Yemeni population especially. This is the case especially in rural areas despite the minuscule portion of 2.5 percent of total land inYemen used for agriculture, which is 1.5 million hectors. The actual utilization of land for agricultural purposes, however, stands at 1.2 million hectors which is disproportionate to population growth and the demand for food security. Yemen imports over 70 percent of its food consumption costing over $790 million (USD) annually and increasingly suffering from a disorganized agricultural sector where most land is inherited.

The inherited agricultural traditions of Yemeni farmers has become a weak point for Yemen as their efficiency is low because most farmers resort to the traditional means of plantation, irrigation, and storage. More alarmingly, the average annual growth of the agricultural sector reached 2.9 percent during the years 2000-2005 at a time when the population growth rates stood at 3.4 percent, thereby increasing the shortage of food produced by Yemen.

A survey conducted in 2003 by the Ministry of Agriculture in cooperation with the World Food Program indicated that 500,000 Yemeni families)constituting 21.8 percent of the population)suffer from varying degrees of food insecurity, out of which 13.8 percent of the population suffer from starvation and another 6.9 percent endure extreme levels of starvation. This statistic indicates that over 700,000 Yemeni children are stunned by malnutrition and starvation, and therefore are needlessly and critically ill.

One of the reasons for the poor efficiency of Yemen's agricultural sector is the unavailability of water: 53 percent of all agricultural land rely on rainwater; 34 percent rely on underground water; and, 7.5 percent rely on streams. Another critical factor holding back agricultural production in Yemen is qat production. Qat production has increased 18 fold over the last three decades and 10.6 percent of total agricultural land is used for the production of the mild narcotic.

Agricultural production of Yemen

Yemen's agricultural production can be separated in to planting and farming which constitute approximately 80 percent of the sector and animal husbandry which constitutes the other 20 percent. In farming, 60.5 percent of cultivated lands are used for grain production, followed by fruits and vegetables production standing at 12.8 percent. The production of animal feed and the planting of qat stand at 10.3 percent each, with the remaining 6 percent of agricultural yield comprising commercially-viable crops such as cotton.

Yemen's livestock includes a population of 17.2 million animals including sheep, goats, cattle, and camels. Growth in the population of livestock, however, is slow because of lack of investment in developing the means of production. Poultry production, on the other hand, receives considerable investment that has resulted in growth in the industry. There is no official data on the growth in the poultry sector.

Yemen's third five-year plan indicated a serious aim of enhancing Yemen's food security through increased agricultural production. This is to be achieved by widening the use of modern irrigation techniques and taking advantage of genetically-modified crops in order to increase the quality and quantity of agricultural yield.

Six agricultural schemes are laid out in the plan, including one scheme to increase know-how of modern agricultural techniques among farmers, a scheme to build dams and improve rainwater management for irrigation, a research scheme to provide farmers with genetically modified seeds and provide services and assistance, a scheme to increase livestock production; a scheme to increase the production of commercially-viable products, and a scheme to promote cooperative societies. The schemes will be discussed in greater detail once the strategy for agricultural development is officially approved.