Foreseeable agricultural crisis to affect the livelihoods of twelve million Yemenis [Archives:2007/1103/Business & Economy]

November 19 2007

By: YemenTimes Staff
Yemen is still an agricultural based economy, employing almost half the workforce and providing livelihoods for over two-thirds of the population. However, the agricultural sector is facing enormous challenges that obstruct its development, ranging from policy issues, to trade, production, and water issues. This report sheds the light on the recent developments in the Agricultural sector and the outlook for upcoming Years.

Yemen's Agricultural Economy is Shrinking. The contribution of Agricultural to the GDP is falling from 18 percent in 2004 with an expectation to drop to 13 percent in 2007, while production of crops in the country has been decreasing, along with the landmass allocated for agricultural activity, and therefore the Agricultural Sector is also employing less people, and in turn affecting the livelihoods of more than twelve million people


Director of the desertification unit within the Yemeni Ministry of Agricultural and Irrigation Mr. Ali Al-Dhamiri told media sources that less than 14 percent of the Yemeni landmass is cultivatable area, and 20 percent out of that cultivatable area is being used for agricultural production of all crops, including Qat. He stated that 95 percent of the agricultural areas face the risk of deterioration, mainly because of the lack of water and Qat's heavy water requirements, as well as the continuous desertification of landmass once agricultural activity becomes non-profitable for farmers, given the increasing cost and scarcity of water resources.

Al-Dhamiri emphasized that although Yemen has a sound anti-decertification strategy, his unit hasn't been able to implement it due to the lack of resources. Al-Dhamiri states that agricultural areas in the northern, eastern and selected southern parts of the country are facing the most serious desertification threat due to the accumulation of desert sands in the agricultural land.

Qat to blame:

Research done by the Ministry of Agriculture states that the increased cultivation of Qat is the prime reason for the increase in prices for other agricultural commodities, such as tomatoes, potatoes and coffee. The research also states that Qat consumes around 70 percent of the water resources dedicated to the agricultural sector, and given the current rate of Qat cultivation in Sana'a governorate, the Sana'a basin will run out of water by 2015 and all agricultural activity, dependent livelihoods and employment opportunities will be lost for good.

Minister of Agriculture Dr. Mansour Al-Hawshabi stated that his ministry has taken a few measures in order to reduce cultivation of Qat the negative side effects of the crop, stating that all chemical agents used in cultivation of Qat has been banned, and that improved extension services and technology has been introduced to farmers to help them increase agricultural yield of other crops which are more beneficial to the people and the economy as a whole.

Director of the general authority for research and agricultural guidance Dr. Ismael Moharam stated that Qat cultivation during 2005 has consumed over 926 million cubic meters of water, while water costs in Qat cultivation reach 46 percent of cultivation cost, while the use of chemical agents to stimulate growth costs around 40 percent of cultivation cost. Moharam also added that farmers are increasingly growing Qat because of the high economic returns compared to other crops.

Growing Coffee and Wheat

The Ministry of Agriculture has a plan to plant over a million coffee trees in selected areas where coffee production can be more viable. In order to compensate for the deterioration in coffee production since 1970, which exceeded seven thousand hectares compared to a mere 127 hectares today. The Ministry is also trying to work with agricultural associations and cooperatives in order to organize the coffee industry in terms of production, grading and export mechanism.

Director of Agricultural guidance and communications within the Ministry of Agriculture Dr. Mansour Al-Aaqil has stated that expanding coffee and wheat production was initiated by President Saleh in order to improve agricultural exports and food security. Dr. Al-Aaqil reiterated that almost half a million hectares will be targeted through this three-year strategy (2007-2009), which has access to water and are most suitable to growing wheat and other grains.

The Strategy also includes introducing genetically-modified crops which are resistant to diseases and provide more agricultural yield, with a hope that these crops will increase wheat production per hectare to come closer to international standards of wheat production per hectare, especially since Yemen imports over 92 percent of its wheat from the international Market.

The Minister of Agriculture Al-Hawshabi has stated that there is a lot of hope in the success of this strategy, hoping that the direction to increase local production will decrease dependence on exports by 15-20 percent throughout the next two decades. He also added that the government is willing to buy local wheat production as a higher rate than the market in order to encourage farmers to produce more wheat instead of other crops which might have lower returns and are uncompetitive in the market.

Local Agriculture under the WTO

Future prospects of the Agricultural Sector are also dependent on the changes in the international market as well as the relationship between Yemen and the World Trade Organizations. Several large countries have established boundaries and conditions in order to protect their local agricultural industries, with reference to examples such as the United States and the European Union. Following suit, Director of the coordination unit with the WTO affiliated to the Ministry of Trade Dr. Hamoud Al-Najjar has stated that the current negotiations with the WTO aim at protecting the local agricultural producer from the consequences of opening the market.

On his part, Professor of Economics in Sana'a University Dr. Mohammed Al-Maitami has emphasized that over 33 percent of the value of imports are foodstuff, which creates a considerable burden on the balance of payments, he stated that in 2005, Yemen spent around 100 billion Riyals on food imports, which equals roughly half the income generated by Oil sales for that year.