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Farmers need infrastructure and incentives.

In order to encourage Yemeni farmers in rural areas to switch from the cultivation of qat to the cultivation of other cash crops such as coffee and produce honey, they must be provided with infrastructure and incentives, according to agricultural researchers.

This finding came following the launch of the Economic Opportunities Fund (EOF) that was organized by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) with the collaboration of the French Development Agency (AFD) and Islamic Development Fund (ISD) on Sunday, November 15.

"This program is a link between international funding agencies and poor families in rural areas, with the goal of overcoming poverty by investing in high value commodities like coffee and honey," said Hervte Gallete, Design Mission Team Leader at the AFD.

The EOF was welcomed by the Yemeni government as it brings together the IFAD, AFD and the Islamic Development Bank to fund the project. "What makes this project more important is that it brings together many funding agencies," said Abdulkarim Al-Arahabi, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation.

"There are many who spoke about investing in high value commodities, but until now no actions have been taken in this field. However we hope this project will help us do that," he added.

The targeted areas of the project would include the governorate of Abyan, Amran, Thamar, Hodeidah, Lahj, Taiz, Ibb and Sana'a with possible extension, according to Thierry Mahieux, a Design Mission team leader at IFAD.

The program is mainly targeting Yemeni women in rural areas in the above-mentioned governorates.

In Yemen, women make up roughly 30 percent of the workforce and 80 percent of those women are in the agricultural sector in rural areas, according to the Department for International Development (DFID), a British government agency for promotion of sustainable development.

However, interested persons who attended the project workshop said that in practice the program will likely not reach its targets, as most Yemeni rural areas women are illiterate and lack to training in those areas.

"For the project of cultivation in coffee and honey, it needs water and there is scarcity of water in the whole of Yemen," said a woman from the National Committee for Women.

"From my experience, these projects usually do not reach Yemeni women in rural areas. Reaching such areas is hard due to the absence of infrastructure and the high rate of illiteracy among women there," she added.

Another key threat to the project is that Yemen in the process of joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), making it more difficult for Yemeni commodities to compete on the international market.

"How is this project going to work if Yemen is entering the WTO?" asked Nasr Al-Shihab, an agricultural expert at the Agricultural Research and Extension Authority.

"The export of honey and coffee would be threatened if Yemen joined the WTO," he said.

The absence of marketing policy of agricultural products is also a disturbance to the success of the project."The marketing of agriculture in Yemen is miserable," Al-Shihab said. The Ministry of Agriculture has been speaking for more than eighteen years about marketing policy, but without results, according to Al-Shihab.

The marketing policy should consist of many channels that are obligated to prepare Yemeni agricultural commodities to compete in the WTO, the expert suggested. "Now if we just prepared our products to be competitive for ten years, we could be bot competitive and adhere to WTO standards," he said.

Moreover, the expert recommended utilizing this period for marketing policy preparation.

However, there is now no authority working on the preparation of a national strategy for marketing, nor any standards imposed on farmers to optimize their products, according to the expert. Infrastructure is the most urgent tool that farmers in rural area need for that, and that infrastructure is lacking.

"Farmers in rural areas need to move their products, and that takes machines and other infrastructure that is simply not there," he said. In addition to that, the current method of agriculture marketing that farmers and even some export companies use is traditional, and lacks modern methods.

"Because of poor marketing on the part of farmers, some export companies have resorted to taking Yemeni coffee plants abroad, growing it there, and selling it again with little change to our country," he said.

Although the cultivation of coffee was linked to Yemen historically, it has now become threatened by qat.

"Farmers are going to focus on qat cultivation since it brings more money to them than other products, and farmers first and foremost care about their own income, not about what that means for the country," he said.

To encourage farmers to grow coffee, they should be provided with incentives.

"The project of the EOF should give farmers incentives to change from qat cultivation to coffee and horticulture," he said. To make the Yemeni agricultural products competitive in the world market, the expert suggested improving the micro-industry in the country.

"Why not improve our micro-industries? Micro-industry means the commodity should be prepared well, should be selected well, and should be certified well, and then sold competitively," he suggested. Although the program was entitled Economic Opportunities, many things were missing from the program as it only included coffee and honey in its business plan.

Domestic produce of livestock does not meet the local demand and Yemen imports sheep, cattle and goats from the Horn of Africa.

Domestic livestock, including cows, sheep, goats and camels only reached 18,863 heads in 2007, according the National Information Centre. However, the livestock was not introduced in the program as an economic opportunity.

Moreover, cultivation of dates, grown in Lahj, Hadramout, Shabwa, Mahra and Tehama region, was not mentioned as an economic opportunity. Yemen is ranked third among Arab countries in import of dates, with around 31 thousand tons imported every year, according to an online study by Dr. Abdullah Wahbi, published in 2008 in the Al-Marefa (knowledge) Saudi Arabia magazine.

In addition to that, some mountainous governorates which were famous of coffee cultivation but have now turned to qat cultivation, such as Mahwit and Hajja, were not included.

Also, the mechanism for distributing funds to the targeted areas was not revealed, nor was the program timeline.

During the workshop, a presentation about the current situation of coffee cultivation and marketing in Yemen was presented by the engineer Sameer Al-Otmi. The cultivation of coffee is a strategic crop for the country, as Yemen is the origin of coffee, according to Al-Otmi.

However, in the recent decade the coffee crop in Yemen deteriorated due to many factors, mainly the climate change in the production areas, the inland migration from the countryside to the urban areas and farmers switching from the coffee cultivation to qat, as qat is fast and lucrative, according to Al-Otmi.

"The drought, poor exporting, the absence of marketing policy and the qat crop are the direct reasons of the coffee crop deterioration," he said.

The total agricultural area in Yemen is around one million and half hectares and the coffee crop only has two percent of the total area, whereas qat cultivation area is about ten percent, according to the engineer.

The global production of coffee is 400 to 2240 kg solid coffee per one hectare, but the Yemeni produce of coffee is low as it is just 350 to 800 kg per one hectare, according to Al-Otmi.

Yemen ranks the sixth in Asia of coffee production and the 46th among 60 countries globally.

"What makes the production of coffee in Yemen very low also is that the current coffee cultivation farmers are less experience that their fathers," Al-Otmi said.

"The Yemeni coffee is excellent among other coffee in the world and it is reputable around the world with its good flavour, but it is threatened and not available strategy to maintain it," he added.

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Publication:Yemen Times (Sana'a, Yemen)
Date:Nov 19, 2009
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