The Grapes of Rawdha Are Diminishing [Archives:2003/649/Opinion]

July 10 2003

If there is anything that the village of Rawdha, just 7 km north of Sana'a, and the surrounding land is noted for, is the very fine white seedless grapes, which probably are unequalled anywhere in Yemen and one might even say anywhere in the world for that matter. Yet it is regrettable to say that this very unique feature of Yemen will soon be a thing of the past, just as many of Yemen's unique naturally endowed treasures are swallowed up by spontaneous development and uncontrolled urbanization. On top of being a former favorite of visiting tourists, the village of Rawdha and the surrounding farmlands provided a sustainable livelihood for many farmers, who have inherited the grape growing traditions that have produced this unique remarkable crop.
The problem with Rawdha is that, being so close to Sana'a, this has made its farmlands the victims of, not only the rapid urbanization that has overtaken the City of Sana'a, but also the victim of being the favored site for large non-productive government facilities, at the expense of the survival of Rawdha grapes and the sustenance of the people that depend on the farming of the crop. Large government infrastructure projects, military and civilian, are chuckling up large tracts of rich agriculture land, where there are existing farms, that provide the livelihood for hundreds of families, and where these grapes are grown. No one wishes to put a halt to development or to fulfilling our defense and security needs, but due consideration should be given to the losses that would occur, especially to people's livelihoods and to an important natural product for which only Rawdha is best suited for. Many of Rawdha's farmers have been heard shouting at the recent efforts to confiscate their land, without due consideration as to how the owners and farmers will find other means of livelihood, since their produce is confined to this important produce, which is all they know how to live by.
Many of the people of Rawdha are tragically recalling the hundreds of thousands of lubnas that were taken up by many past projects, starting ever since the military academy expanded to take thousands of lubnas, of rich agricultural land some 20 years ago, as well as the other large government complexes that followed, not to mention the erratic residential urban growth that is rendering the farmlands to extinction.
Many observers note that these complexes might in fact be more functionally suitable for placement in more remote areas than to have them close to the urban center Sana'a has become, where their security becomes more vulnerable. Therefore, the government is urged to reconsider its decision on the large infrastructure projects being envisioned for the area of Rawdha, because the people of Rawdha will loose an important means for their livelihood and the country will eventually stand to loose one of its unique produce.
While we are on the subject of conservation, the farm areas of Rawdha provided a refreshing sight of vegetation from the urban splashes, which have overtaken the surrounding areas of Sana'a, especially since this rapid urbanization is not allowing for any inclusion of parks and green oasis amidst the concrete, stone and glass that has overwhelmed the city. There are vast areas of the country that are unsettled and can easily be made suitable to accommodate the infrastructure that is being envisioned for Rawdha, which will in turn help reduce the pace of urbanization, which Sana'a is being forced into, This already represents an eminent threat, especially as the water resources needed for such urbanization are nonexistent and whatever water resources there are now, are subject to rapid depletion.
This observer appeals to the government agencies concerned to take the understandable protest of the people of Rawdha to heart, because there are important considerations involved, not just as far as the people of Rawdha are concerned, but because Rawdha is being promoted as one of the important tourism sights that attract tourists to Yemen. On the other hand, the unique landscape and greenery produced by the vast farms that will be taken over by these upcoming government complexes will be an irreplaceable loss.
It is worth mentioning that this observer is neither a victim of any of the confiscations proposed, nor a landowner of significance in Rawdha to speak of. The above is given merely to echo the many appeals by many of the residents of Rawdha and the outlying farmlands, who feel they have no one to speak for them. They rightfully have a case, since they have already given so much of their land in the past for similar government projects, and feel that whenever the government wants to put up any of its infrastructure it turns to Rawdha, without considering how this eventually leads to the extinction of the famous grapes for which the area thrived on before, but now barely provides a means of subsistence to the remaining landowners and provide substantial work to the residents of Rawdha who do not own land.