Towards Achieving a Sustainable Spate Irrigation Development Projects In Yemen [Archives:1999/46/Health]

November 15 1999


(Agro-Rural Development Policies)
Prepared by: Abdul Kader M. Al-Ariqi
Environment / Development Consultant
1) Agricultural Aspect:
Agriculture is one of the main factors of the economy in Yemen and contributes 13% of the GDP. More than half (52.9 %) of the active population is employed in Agriculture. In rural areas, those who are involved in agriculture form 67.4% of the population (ref. CSO, 1994 Census). The provision of irrigation water is the main input of agriculture production. Water is a scarce resource in Yemen as no permanent rivers exist. Agriculture is the main user of the available water (more than 90%). The main sources of irrigation are: spate intermittent wadi flows diverted during rainy seasons, and ground water reservoirs where infiltrated flood water is stored. Spate irrigation has been practiced in Yemen for millennia in a sustainable manner, thanks to the traditional technologies practiced by our ancestors in a comprehensive and integrated approach based on rain water, flood harvesting and appropriate tillage systems, in addition easy access to the main agricultural inputs (see, Rain Harvesting System and Sustainable Agriculture Development, Yemen Times, issue No 29). This has been achieved through practicing appropriate irrigation systems, inter-cropping, continuous terrace cultivation and careful farming systems. This stock of knowledge has not been effectively and fully utilized or improved up to the present time.
Hence, this traditional technology should be appropriately innovated and studied in more detail in all aspects, particularly with regard to water rights, distribution equity in the light of the priority set by farmers and their wishes for improving, particularly their irrigation systems. Any improvement or appraisal should pay attention to the potential of small and medium farmers by addressing the issues and problems hindering their contributions to agricultural development. Knowing that small farm development is efficient for creating a broad-based and long-term agricultural development, thus contributing much to food security and poverty reduction programs, small and medium farmers will play a concrete role in realizing principles of sustainability, e.g. participatory approaches + local empowerment + local ownership and distribution equity.
2) Present situation \ Agro-ecological Aspect.
During the last three decades, the agriculture sector has deteriortated and became unsustainable due to complex interacting factors including physical and socio-cultural problems such as poverty, poor health and nutrition, lack of access to productive resources, and food security, price policies and unfair trade (food stuff) exchange and above all fragmentation of lands, due to demographic dynamics and introduction of inappropriate or misused new technologies such as: Well drilling machines + inappropriate wadi development techniques. These and others led to mis-use of the environment by householders (new poor farmers), such as, abandoned\damaged terraces, deforestration, mining soil nutrition, cultivating in fragile marginal lands and over-growing range lands in order to feed themselves.
The big farmers\investors practiced mining ground water for producing fruits (mainly banana cultivation) in large areas, thus leading and causing disaster to ground water reservoirs’ quality as well as quantity. For example, many deep wells in the Tihama became salty due to the phenomenon of sea intrusion.
Due to the above mentioned factors, mainly mis-use of the environment, it has frequently been noticed that devastating floods cause many environmental disasters including, loss of precious fertile lands in wadis and unfortunate loss of human life, subsequently many wadis became eroded and enlarged from 20m to more than 200m. Consequently, the maintenance of the destroyed traditional structures and lands becomes costly and unbearable as does the rehabilitation of terraces necessary to train upstream torrential floods. In turn, mass movement of poor households who were forced to immigrate to urban areas for survival and for seeking jobs and a better livelihood.
Unfortunately, the introduced wadi developments technology for improvement of irrigation systems and rehabilitation of flood protection works has negatively affected traditional irrigation and became unfeasible, technically, financially and socially while changing the established water rights. In fact, these works were very capital intensive and drastically changed the traditional water distribution pattern, often at the expense of the downstream farmer. Above all they affected the traditional balance of available water resources. In addition, inadequate design criteria were applied. This revealed the unique and complex nature of the traditional spate irrigation system which has been underestimated by the consulting firms who designed the structures. These and other factors posed serious O and M issues and problems of destructive floods and related high sedimentation loads.
3) Introduction of Comprehensive and Integral Approach
Presently, due to the problems indicated above, it is evident that there is a need to review the prevailing perception of agricultural policies before implementing the proposed or on-going agricultural development programs and projects. Thus, comprehensive and integrated agricultural policies have to be pursued. It is advisable to incorporate and adopt appropriately “Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development” (SARD) Objectives into the framework of agricultural policy formulation. Hence, all the concerned agencies, government, development agencies, donors, private sector and farmers should jointly work to promote, appropriately and effectively, the integration of SARD into policy analysis including identification and improvement of the sustainable traditional technologies and what research and studies are required for focusing on reduction of alleviation of rural\household poverty. Duly, a comprehensive understanding of the Household\Community problems is one of the main objectives, which should analyze how to raise the livelihood of the small\medium farmers who relied totally on fragmented, fragile and marginal lands, and who have no other opportunities beyond farming. Hence, off-farm earning opportunities and access to the agricultural six INS (incentives, inputs, innovations, information, infrastructure and institutions) and productive resources could play a great role in improving our agricultural production system. It should be within the strategy of creating off-farm employment, enhancing rural manufacturing enterprises which should lead to the growth of the agro-business and non-agricultural services. In the mean time, promote adequately the investment in human capital through improving health care, delivery systems, education, training courses and protecting indigenous knowledge cultures. These could be attained through establishing active community-based systems or centers under the supervision of the central and local governments. This will contribute to implementing development programs aimed at raising the capabilities of the people and their functions within the mainstream of poverty alleviation programs.
Within the framework of SARD policy, traditional spate irrigation systems should be encouraged and sustained through reviving the old skills by teaching the young generation these techniques and in the mean time enhancing the approach to technology innovation. The improvement of the spate irrigation system should be within the prospective of overall water resources management. For example, adopt optimal use of surface and ground water within a water balance, to maximize the overall agricultural production per unit of water in order to benefit all the farmers and their households.