While Yemen is working on rebuilding its broken economy, brought down by three decades of mis-management, corruption and a series of internal conflicts - terrorism, Sa'ada war and 2011 revolution - Yemen Agriculture and Irrigation Minister, Farid Mujawar is calling for more agriculturally orientated development programs, stressing on the urgency of a strong national farming - land and animal - policy to attain greater levels of self-sufficiency.
With its wide range of arable climatic zones, Yemen has the greatest potential for agricultural development of any nation on the Arabian Peninsula.
According to World Bank 2010 report, Yemen arable lands expand over 1,171,000 hectares as opposed to 64,000 hectares for the United Arab Emirates.
A study conducted by FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - in 2001 established Yemen agriculture sector accounted for 17% of its GDP. Some decades later, Yemen's economic dependence on agriculture has not changed, nor did the country's food requirement.
The most populous country of the Arabian Peninsula, with an estimated 24-26 million people and the lowest income per capita, Yemen's future very much relies on its ability to develop its agriculture to a point where it will reach a balance in between its internal food requirements and its crop export potential.
Although only 3% so far of its lands are arable, experts said they believe Yemen has a future in agriculture by the quality and specificity of its crops.
Some centuries ago, Yemen was put on the map through its coffee trade. The country's exceptional coffee trade singlehandedly transformed its economy, propelling it from a vegetative state to a buoyant and striving machine.
It is Yemen's unhealthy taster for Qat - a leafy-green narcotic plant which is chewed by a large majority of the population - which slowly eroded the nation's agriculture potential, depleting its water resources and aggravating Yemen's dependency on food import.
And while economists agree that Yemen is not yet able to internationally compete in marketing its produce, especially since such exports are often blocked at the borders for a lack of quality control and uniformity, industrial farming of fruits and vegetables, using modern irrigation techniques, could provide a level of production to nearly satisfy domestic demand.
Yemen's agriculture is now facing a multitude of negative factors -- repeated outbreaks of conflict have displaced over tens of thousands of people, mostly women and children throughout the provinces, a high influx of refugees arriving in the south, particularly from Ethiopia and Somalia, have placed additional strains on the country's limited natural resources, erratic rainfall patterns, causing droughts as well as devastating floods, have led to crop losses, high livestock mortality and distress selling of animals, a main productive and life-sustaining asset for farmers in Yemen --
That being said, a great deal could be achieved in a short period of time to remedy some of those factors. Yemen cannot simply stand idle while over 40% of its population is at food risk, left defenseless to prices fluctuation and food shortages.
Yemen's agriculture in number
With a population growth of 3% per annum and a fertility rate estimated at 6.6 per woman, Yemen is facing an ever increasing food need.
73.5% of the population is related in one way or another to the agricultural sector, underscoring the need for a national investment and development policy.
In 1975, Yemen produced 1.98 million tons of grains as opposed to 713,739 tons in 2008, a deficit of over a million tons, indicating a decrease in the overall grain cultivated areas to the benefit of other crops, in this instance Qat, which despite its high yield income capacity is overwhelmingly detrimental to not only farming and the economy but at the root of many social and health issues.
90% of Yemen food needs are being imported.
A new policy
Earlier this week Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation Farid Mujawar met in Sana'a with Robert Wilson, USAID Director - U.S Agency for International development - to discuss development projects in the impoverished nation.
Minister Mujawar who told the press he was focusing his energy on getting the Cabinet to grasp the importance agriculture should hold within the nation's economic recovery plan, has been reviewing with Wilson ways in which Yemen could improve food security, building a strong and varied farming system - plants and animals - in keeping with the country water restriction.
"We are trying to convince the government to give priority in support to the agricultural sector to promote its role in providing food security and to take advantage of this sector as a means of combating poverty in rural and urban areas", Mujawar said.
While much remains to be done, the premise of a new state-of-mind has already inspired farmers and even individuals to become pro-active in their desire to rehabilitate Yemen's farming industry.
In eastern Hadhramawt the local authorities have encouraged residents to use their land to grow their own crops, highlighting the need for local food self-sufficiency.
In Dhamar - south of the capital - farmers have been encouraged to return to coffee farming rather than Qat, as to promote a more ecologically sustainable sector as well as boost Yemen lucrative coffee trade.
Dhamar governorate is well-known of its coffee, in western districts such as Anis, Maghrab ‘Ans and ‘Utamah which provide the suitable climate for coffee production in commercial quantities. The coffee of Dhamar is distinguished by its high quality.
Another of the governorate’s important activities is herding of sheep and goats; the governorate is also famous for Arabian horse breeding.
If Yemen can manage to reduce its food deficit by reaching acceptable levels of food self-sufficiency than it will have achieved an important milestone in its recovery. Not only will people have access to cheaper products but the country will no longer have to suffer price fluctuation or food reserves shortage, guaranteeing safer levels of food security.