Yemen’s Population Growth Intensifies Food Problem [Archives:2001/13/Business & Economy]

March 26 2001

Mahyoob al-Kamali
Modern population studies have maintained that the high rate of population growth, 3.7%, will increase Yemen’s population within ten years to about 27,5 million. This is associated with deterioration in production due to deteriorated agricultural lands and a water crisis. This, in turn, will intensify the problem of food security in terms of increasing consumption supported by the high rate of family support, and marked decrease in individual’s income.

Owing to the high rate of fertility, the average of family size in Yemen is seven individuals and the average of family of resident peoples is ranging between 5-6 individuals. In each household there are usually 2-7 individuals. A demographic survey indicates that production levels dependconsiderably upon the level of education of Yemeni women. The same study shows that there is an average of 8 births for each illiterate woman and 5 births for each woman who finishes primary school.. Early marriage is also viewed as a creditable Yemeni custom for many religious and cultural reasons, leading to population growth.

Agricultural Lands Reduced:
Population explosion in Yemen is matched with a visible deterioration in the agricultural activity. Out of the 1,6 million Hectare of lands fit for agriculture, only 1,2 hectares are being cultivated. Besides, water crisis, deteriorated agricultural services, including researches, production requirements and marketing problems, all tend to decrease agricultural products which do not cover even 7% of the local consumption, especially of cereals.

Yemen In Need of 8 million Tons of Cereals:
In a study on the population growth Nasser al-Awlaki, Dean of Ibb university indicated that after ten years Yemen will need at least 8 million tons of cereals annually, while the current production does not exceed 148 thousand tons.

This disequilibrium will reflect itself in the lives of the people who consume more than 2 million tons of wheat and flour on an annual basis.
The study asserts that increase of production of cereals will be very limited for many reasons including the high cost of production and problems of employment as well as the tendency of farmers to change cereal crops for more benefiting crops such as fruits, vegetables or Qat.

Statistics prepared by the COCA indicate that Yemen’s production of corn reached 10 thousand tons, of barley 56 thousand tons and 167 thousand tons of wheat in 1998. It is clear that these numbers are inadiquit for the ever-increasing demands of the people. This spells an increases in the import level at the expense of hard currency.

The food problem is quite acute in the Yemeni community. Solutions to this problem are not as difficult as they may appear. The most important of these are to reduce the food gap through promoting the production capacity, organizing the agricultural ownership, and reducing Qat planted areas for planting cereals. Above all, the local production should be supported through application of modern technology in the agricultural production and marketing.

Official statistics emphasize that investment in agricultural research tend to decrease the gap in food production. Within the past 20 years, $170,3 thousand has been invested in the wheat research. Within 15 years, there has been a profit of $56,250 million from that amount. Studies estimated that to solve food problem about $160 million is needed. A time table can be drawn up to increase the production of cereals annually indicating the volume of expenses to reduce the food gap gradually instead of increasing the imports of cereals from foreign markets.

In a nutshell, to face the problem of food scarcity in Yemen, there should be some plans drawn out to curb the population growth and stop the deterioration of agricultural lands, and to give more attention to marine resources.