Food Security Yemen’s Key Challenge [Archives:2001/34/Focus]
Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi
Food security has become a headache of global concern. It is a real challenge for some poor countries like Yemen. Studies reveal that Yemen will need around 8 million tons of wheat after ten years. This makes 4.5 million people lacking food security. The number is likely to rise to 8 million in 2025 unless economic growth matches pace in addition to improvement in income distribution. Reports released by the EC indicate that most of the people suffering from food insecurity in 1996 are peasants and jobless. These reports also point out that the pieces of land which grow wheat have reached good production of 48 000 tons. However, this amount of wheat covers only 17% of the total local consumption.
The gap between the high rising population growth and slow growing of cereals brings out great challenges of food security. If population increases by 1%, food consumption soars up to 3,18. The Human Development Report of 1998 highlighted the serious problem of water shortage due to the vast increase of population plus the growing of qat which consumes huge amounts of water. It is reported that agriculture consumes 90% of water, much of it going to qat growing. World Bank Studies confirm that people in Sana’a consume 30 cubic million meter while qat takes 60 million cubic meters. According to the 1999 Human Development Report, Yemen is one of the main countries in the world that badly suffers from water shortage. 39% of population doesn’t have clean and secure water, and qat represents 50% of the total agricultural production. The fast economic revenues of qat is the main reason behind its agricultural expansion. The planted areas of qat soared up to 92000 hectare in 1995 compared with 18% for coffee.
Hence, qat growing is one of the major reasons behind the food security problem in Yemen as it occupies 60% of the total planted areas and consumes a huge amount of water. Furthermore, this product can not be exported and thus its taxing revenues reach 4%.
The challenge now is the imbalance between low agricultural production and high consumption as well as between the imports and exports of foodstuffs. The local production of wheat is decreasing dramatically. It was representing 22% of total consumption in 1995 while it went down to 90% in 1999. This indicates that wheat is having a top position in the meals of Yemenis. The production of wheat was 117000 tons in 1995 but it came down to 40 000 tons in 1999, putting the average at 500% annually. The total amount of wheat consumption was 700000 tons in 1999. This made Yemen import wheat and maize at 25 billion YR in 1999 while it was 3.4 billion YR in 1995. Yemen’s annual imports of wheat, rice, meat, chicken and sugar are put at 56 billion YR and 153 on a daily basis. This makes it clear that food has become a burden on the already fragile economy of Yemen. In other words, it consumes a lot of hard currency. The revenue of all agricultural imports can only finance 35 % of the value of imported wheat. Statistics reveal that the revenue of Yemen’s imports of coffee, potato, fish, cotton and fruits reached YR. 8.8 billion. That is, their revenue covers only 16% of the value of the imported food commodities and 13 % of the value of imported agricultural products. Therefore, Yemen spends 54% of oil revenues (YR. 105 billion in 1998) on imported foodstuffs. Studies stressed that investment in agriculture can play an instrumental role in cracking down on the problem of food shortage. The have pointed out that to sort out this nagging problem, Yemen needs 160 million YR. They also recommended that action plans to stop population explosion and the decline of agricultural sector have to be conducted soon, and that there must be focusing on marine resources, increasing the volume of agricultural products. Qat growing space must be down-sized considerably. These studies also say that advanced technology in agricultural production and marketing have introduced so as to encourage local production of cereals. This could help to put food insecurity under control. However, this problem constitutes the real challenge to the country. It is in particular a challenge to the Yemen vision 2025 that has been made to tackle serious problems Yemen is going through, including food shortage.