Business & Economy
Written By: Dr. Nasser Abdullah al-Aulaqi For the Yemen Observer
Article Date: Jan 17, 2012 - 8:17:56 PM
The agricultural sector has witnessed substantial transformations since the 1962 and 1963 revolutions especially in the fields of well irrigation investments, dams and water tanks. Despite such investments over the past years and essentially since 1980, the increase in the annual agricultural production didn't exceed 2% while the population growth itself counted for over 3% for the same period.
However, the agricultural sector remains one of the key sectors of the national economy as it contributes by almost 17.4% to the GDP, employing over 54% of the country's labor force and constituting a substantial source in the non-oil Yemeni exports. Moreover, one cannot dismiss the self-sufficiency factor as food products produced locally prevent more import expenditures.
2-The main features of agriculture in Yemen:
2-1 The Land resources: The total area of Yemen is estimated at 456 113 thousand km2, the agricultural land constitutes about 2 million hectares of Yemen's total area of 45.6 million hectares which is 4% of the total area. The annual cultivated area in Yemen is 1.5 million hectares (only 2% of Yemen's total area).
2-2 Human Resources:
The population of Yemen has substantially increased over the past twenty years; upon the Yemeni unification the total population soared to 12.6 million. In 2008 it reached almost 22.2 million, with a population growth of more than 3% and a fertility rate of 6.6 per woman. 73.5% of the population is related in one way or another to the agricultural sector either due to living in the rural areas either by working directly in agriculture its services, crafts and industries that serve the rural population or in which the agricultural product is used.
2-3 water resources
Estimates indicate that the bulk of the renewable water resources in
Yemen amounts annually to 2.5 billion m3 while the consumed quantities are estimated at 3.2 billion m3 per annum. The difference between the available and the consumed is almost 0.7 billion m3 with an annual per capita of 112.6 m3.
The Yemeni agricultural activity is featured by the diversity of the climate characteristics and topography from one region to another which has led to diversification and sustainability of production of certain agricultural products to become available throughout the year. We may also categorize the agricultural production as follows;
3-1 crops production:
Crops production comes first in terms of the contribution in the overall agricultural production. Grain crops are on top with 55% and with a production of 713 739 tons in 2008 compared to 1.98 million tons in 1975, which indicates a decrease in the overall cultivated areas and those allocated for grains over the past thirty years. Sorghum cultivated areas represented 58% of the total grain cultivated areas in 2008; wheat 16%, millet 15%, barley 5% and maize 6%. The well cultivated areas have increased from 2% in 1975 to 40% in 2000 while the rain cultivated areas have dropped from 85% to 45% for the same period.
The grains production reached 713 739 ton in 2008 while the imported quantity of wheat in 2009 was 2 789 130 tons. This means that we rely on imports for 90% of the wheat consumption. The produced amounts of vegetables in 2008 were about
1 037 246 tons while the fruits production was 958 977 tons. Coffee production was
18 788 tons in the same year, sesame 23 895 tons, cotton 24,115 tons and fodder production increasing to 2 000 286 tons.
It is worth mentioning that there is a major problem in the food agricultural sector characterized by the rapid increase in the production and consumption of Qat. Cultivated areas of Qat have increased from less than 10 000 hectares in the early 1970s to 146 810 in 2008. The gravity of the situation lies in the depletion of groundwater with Qat eating up almost 30% of the natural reserves. Qat production generated in 2008 approximately 246 billion YR, while fruits and vegetables brought in 276 billion YR and grains 91 billion. Qat also employs in the production and marketing process about 500 000 people, which accounts for about 16% of the country's employment,
3-2 Animal wealth:
Animal wealth is one of the key components of Yemen's agricultural sector. The production of red meat in 2008 accounted for 90 242 ton while white meat production reached 135,568 ton in 2008. That same year 1085 million eggs were produced. Although many improvements had been witnessed in that sector, production has yet to match the population needs.
4-Yemen's food gap:
Among the indicators of the exacerbating food crisis we note the constant decline in self-sufficiency rates of goods, the imbalance between the agricultural exports and imports and the falling nutritious level amongst the population. The self sufficiency rate of wheat counts for only 7.8%. Yemen depends on rice imports. The amount of the agricultural imports has risen from 40 million in mid 1970s to 2.3 billion in 2009 while the exports make up a tiny portion of the imports.
5-The main features of the agricultural policies in the Republic of Yemen:
The state policies in many developing countries, including Yemen, have been focused on achieving development through productive and service sectors other than agriculture. Such policies have aimed at creating a comprehensive economic and social development so that a high income growth could be obtained to import whatever food products were needed. The government policy was also directed towards supporting price reformism in favor of the urban population by providing cheap and subsidized food products which have negatively affected the agricultural sector especially in terms of grain production. What emphasizes such negligence is the declining productivity of grains in Yemen.
One of the big mistakes committed by the agricultural policy-makers in Yemen over the past few years was to not pay enough attention to the challenges facing this sector in Yemen. For example the gross overlook of “Qat-mania” and the repercussions it brought upon the country’s water reserves and foreign food dependencies. The objectives of the current agricultural policy can be summed up in the following;
1-Fulfilling high rates of food security depending on the domestic food production;
2-Fighting poverty in the rural communities; and
3-Achieving a sustainable growth in the agricultural sector which is higher than the population growth.
The agricultural policy should in the future tend to increase the production of grains especially wheat and animal products in order to realize food security for the people, create agricultural and food alternatives to Qat.
However, once we look at the components of the current agricultural policy, we find that there is no actual shift in the new policy towards a tangible development of the agricultural sector that may meet the food needs in the future or contribute to the elimination of poverty and unemployment in the rural communities. It is quite clear that the government doesn't possess the financial capacities to implement the necessary reforms.
6-Agricultural support policies:
6-1 investment agricultural policy:
We find that the investment policy when it comes to the allocation of investments in the consecutive five-year plans have prioritized the basic services sectors while the productive sectors like agriculture has had a very low share. The scarcity of investments in agricultural development wasn't only limited to the public sector .
6-2 agricultural price policy:
The consecutive governments have applied various price interventions.
The government has also subsidized the inputs of the agricultural production such as fertilizers and seeds as well as diesel. However, such agricultural policy hasn't led to an increase in the domestic grain production but rather to a soaring production of vegetables, fruits and Qat, leading to severe water depletion.
It is really unfortunate that the government have been spending millions of US dollars on an annual basis to subsidize the prices of wheat and flour without providing any incentives to increase the domestic grain production.
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