Archive | August, 2010

Precious coffee beans hand-picked by women

26 Aug

Malak ShaherPublished:26-08-2010


When she left her village for the first time in her life to visit Europe, she had no idea that she might have something so valuable in her poor village for the people of the world. 

Fatima Abdulkabir, 30, is the manager of Talooq, a women’s association named after the village where it was started in the governorate of Taiz. Eighty percent of the women in the association are coffee growers.

Last February 2009, she traveled from Al-Misrakh, Taiz to Germany for a trade fair that she hopes to take part in next year. She discovered that, with its lingering chocolaty aftertaste, the coffee that the women in her association grow is in high demand on a continent where people drink up to three cups a day.

“I was surprised that they valued our coffee,” said Fatima. “When I came back to Yemen, I reflected on how much they value Yemeni coffee and we pay almost no heed to it. Actually, I realized we have an invaluable mine of coffee. When I went back to my village, I told the women that each has a hidden treasure.”

Men in Fatima’s village have in general left their families to look for a job and neglected their coffee trees. Now 95 percent of the women in the area take care of the coffee trees, said Afrah Al-Mahfadi, the head of the Rural Women Department at the Ministry of Agriculture.

Eighty percent of the members of Talooq, the association that Fatima heads, are either women with their own coffee farms or young women who work in their families’ coffee farms after their male relatives emigrated, abandoning the coffee trees to women.

“Unlike men who usually do not wait and pick up the red with the green coffee cherries, women have patience,” Al-Mahfadi added. “They pick up the very ripe red cherries and wait for the green ones to be ripe.”

Women spend from 70 to 80 percent of the coffee revenues on their families, on things such as education and food. They save the rest. However, men who plant coffee and chew qat spend about 50 percent of their earning on chewing qat and only the rest for their families, Al-Mahfadi said.

Women not only spend coffee revenues more wisely than men, but they are also more patient workers, according to Al-Mahfadi.

In order to get an original coffee flavor and taste, only the red cherries must be picked at the time of harvesting coffee cherries. If the farmer is not patient enough and mingles the red cherries with the green ones, the result will not be the original coffee flavor Yemen has always been famous for.

Women collect the red cherries in a bamboo tree basket, then spread them out on the roof top of their house to allow them to drink the golden rays of the warm morning sun. 

Fatima’s associations are supported by the Small & Micro Enterprises Promotion Agency (SMEPS). An agency that empowers coffee farmers and traders in Yemen, SMEPS sponsored her and another woman from the association to show their coffee at the Biofach Organic Trade Fair in Germany last year.

“The women are the main laborers working in the coffee farms as most of the men have migrated to urban areas leaving the farms to the women,” said Mirvat Haidar, Senior Officer at (SMEPS).

In order to tell the world about Yemeni coffee and to provide local Yemeni farmers such as Talook the chance to network with international coffee companies, SMEPS will be holding the second international conference on Arabica Naturals in December this year in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen.

At the moment, with equipment provided by the French Embassy, Talooq is working on roasting and peeling the coffee cherries after they are exposed to the sun for three weeks.

SMEPS has also created networking channels for this women’s organization to reach local coffee traders and market their products. It has provided individual female coffee producers with small loans to boost their business.

The Talooq association sold about 1,300 kilos of dried coffee to a Yemeni company in only two weeks last January, according to Ahmad Hajjam from SMEPS. The coffee was sold for 1,200 a kilo with a 30 percent profit. He said that GEPA, a German fair trade company, had also shown interest in buying the coffee from Talook at a good price, including a premium.

“Women are active in terms of planting coffee. In some areas of the district, they convince their husbands to remove the qat tree and plant the coffee tree instead,” said Wesam Qaed, director of SMEPS.

“Unfortunately most of the women working in the farms are not educated,” he continued. “If they were educated, they would be able to learn the best techniques to take care of the coffee tree and even would be strong at negotiating as they would realize the real value of the coffee that the whole world is looking for.”

According to a 2005 feasibility study on coffee farms in Talooq, a kilogram of coffee was then sold for YR 500. Its real cost in the local market was however YR 1,400 in 2009, according to an article from Al-Jumhuriyya, a Yemeni news website.

The 32,265 coffee trees in Talooq, Misrakh district in Taiz governorate cover the majority of the agricultural land. They make up over 19 percent of all coffee trees in Yemen


Women obtain free birth certificates for their children

19 Aug

At the Khafji center, in one of Sana’a’s poorer suburbs, little children stand in line with their mothers to obtain their birth certificates. (photo by Malak Shaher)
Malak Shaher


Sumaya Mustafa Al-Ammari, almost four, and other children pushed each other in the narrow corridor leading to the registration office. The little girl was standing with her mother in line in order to obtain a free birth certificate. She had never had one up until then because her father could not pay the YR 3,000 fee to obtain one.

All over Yemen, especially in the very poor rural areas, some cannot afford the registration fees to register their children at birth, and therefore do not do so until they are six or seven years old and need to go to school. Only then do fathers go to the Authority of Civil Affairs and Civil Record (ACACR) to get their children a birth certificate.

Since the beginning of August 2010, Save the Children in cooperation with the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been working in two districts in Sana’a to grant children birth certificates. Their campaign aims at giving birth certificates to as many children as possible before the end of this year.

“If it was not free, I would not come. My daughter is only four years old and we do not need to get her a certificate unless she has to enroll in school,” said Sumaya’s mother. “My husband had to pay YR 6,000 two years ago because he wanted to register our two sons in school. Now I can register my daughter for free.”

As the campaign targets people in the poor areas of Sana’a, it also aims to raise the awareness of the Yemeni and refugee parents in the communities that having a birth certificate is a right for every child and it is also free of charge.

The centers are coordinated with the ACACR and are funded by Save the Children and UNHCR.

The protection program specialist of Save the Children, Aisha Saeed, stressed the important role of every member in the community — Yemenis or refugees — in increasing the awareness about obtaining a birth certificate for children in order to secure their right to a name and nationality. She said that birth certificates are necessary documents to protect children’s rights in their childhood and future.

She said that they make birth registration easier by not requiring that fathers be present in order to give the children the certificates.

“Now mothers come to one of the centers, show the marriage certificate and get the certificate for her children,” she said.

The campaign aimed to uphold Ministerial Decree No. 120 of 2006 that provides that birth certificates are free for everyone.

Saeed added that they are working in cooperation with the ACACR to grant midwives the authority to issue birth certificates as many women give birth to their children at home.

This campaign is part of Save the Children’s “Birth Registration Project” and follows a previous campaign in January 2010 to register children’s births for free.

“People came over to register their children. They feel they are lucky to have their children’s birth certificates, especially when knowing that many people wanted their children to enroll in schools next month,” Saeed explained.

According to Khaled Ali Masood Al-Riyashi, 300 children — 250 Yemenis and 50 Somalis — had been registered by the fourth day of the latest campaign in Sana’a.

Bringing a Zabid guesthouse back to life

16 Aug

Malak Shaher

Yemen Times


For a poor construction worker, the restoration of the 14 large rooms, two kitchens and two bathrooms of a two-storey building might have been no more than a way of earning a living. But he and his colleagues were in fact working on the conservation of one of the landmark buildings in the historical town of Zabid, western Yemen.

Around 90 years ago, Salem Shami, a famous Yemeni mason, constructed the building these poor construction workers were restoring.

He built Dar Al-Diyafa, literally “the guest house,” for Arabs and foreigners who visit the city of Zabid, famous for having over 200 mosques and madrasas, schools for those who seek Islamic knowledge.

Zabid is one of the oldest urban settlements in Yemen, in the western lowlands of the Hodeida governorate, about ten miles from the Red Sea.

Zabid was the capital of Yemen from the 13th to the 15th century, and was a city of great importance in the Arab and Muslim world for many centuries because of its Islamic university.

Today the city is in decline and in a very poor state of conservation. Around 40 percent of the city’s houses have been replaced by concrete buildings, and other houses and the ancient souq are in a deteriorating state.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2000 added Zabid to its List of World Heritage Danger to facilitate its preservation. At the time, Zabid beat the Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary in Senegal and the Fort and Shalamar Gardens in Lahore, Pakistan, to the top of the list as the site most urgently needing conservation.

To preserve the unique architectural style of Dar Al-Diyafa, the US Embassy in Yemen in cooperation with the Social Fund for Development this July completed the restoration of Dar Al-Diyafa.

After the restoration, a collection of historic manuscripts from the town’s Al-Asha’er mosque were displayed in the house, and the house was to be open to the public soon after its restoration was completed.

In July 2010, the US Ambassadors’ Fund for Cultural Preservation granted USD 111,000 to restore the house. The funding is part of the wider United States Ambassadors’ Fund for Cultural Preservation which, in 2006, donated USD 2.8 million to fund 87 projects in 76 countries around the world.

The restoration of Dar Al-Diyafa also included the provision of equipment for continuing reservation work and onsite conservation training for local experts.

This year, the Netherlands Funds-in-Trust (NFIT) has also supported the training of Yemeni experts in conservation techniques for all of Yemen’s historical cities. The trust signed an agreement with the Government of the Netherlands and UNESCO to support the World Heritage Centre to help the General Organization for the Preservation of Historic Cities of Yemen (GOPHCY).

This July, the latter started a training program to convey knowledge, values, skills, and experiences of architectural and urban conservation and management to Yemenis. Through coursework and field exercises, the training aimed to strengthen heritage conservation in Yemen.

The participants learned about the proper methodology to develop conservation plans for historic buildings and settlements

Six NGOs receive funding to combat qat consumption

16 Aug
Malak Shaher
Yemen Times


SANA’A, 10 August — Hana Al-Adimi, 28, head of the Third Eye Center, expressed her happiness as she obtained funding to combat qat consumption.

Qat is a leaf  containing an amphetamine-like stimulant that produces a burst of energy and  euphoria. Many Yemeni men and women spend their afternoons on qat breaks. The cultivation of the plant sucks up 30 percent of the country’s water supply used in irrigation. 90 percent of the water in Yemen used for that purpose.

The Third Eye Center and five other non-government organizations are being funded by the World Bank’s Civil Society Fund. The organizations aim to combat qat consumption though producing advocacy materials such as brochures, sketches, songs, posters, caricatures, television adverts and documentary films.

Qat consumption causes a number of social problems in Yemen. It directly contributes to poverty as it consumes a significant part of a family’s budget in the place of other basic necessities. As many qat chewers are addicted to the leaf, they place the purchase of qat above that of other commodities needed by them and their family.

Qat consumption also has a negative effect on the national budget. In agriculture, qat cultivation consumes almost 30 percent of the available ground water, and dominates a large proportion of arable land as farmers plant it due to its quick returns. Land used in qat consumption cannot be used for edible crops that could feed the country reducing reliance on imports, or generate export income.

The financial support of NGOs intends to combat qat as part of the government’s third socioeconomic development plan for poverty reduction 2006-2010. The plan intends to reduce qat consumption in a gradual balanced way, encouraging people to voluntarily abandon qat for their own benefit.

The World Bank Country Director in Yemen, David Craig, stressed the important role played by NGOs in the development of their country, especially their dealing with issues such as qat. He explained that they are close to their own society and know exactly what points of deficiency their societies suffer from.

”The society trusts them because they have direct relations with it,” he said.

Microfinance network to decrease poverty and unemployment

2 Aug
Malak ShaherPublished:02-08-2010

SANA’A, August 1 — Ten years ago, Fatima Fadhel had only one stove to bake puddings and sweets to support her family. She went to Al-Awael Microfinance Company and asked for support to start her own business.



Al-Awael Microfinance Company in Taiz, funded by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), is an example of 11 non-profit microfinance institutions in Yemen that support poor people of both sexes to start their own private businesses all over the county, especially in urban areas.

One commercial bank, one foreign exchange company that has now become a microfinance bank, six non-governmental organizations, one company, and two foundations make up these 11 institutions.

The Yemen Microfinance Network (YMN) was launched officially on August 1st in Sana’a under the patronage of the Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, Abdulkareem Al-Arhabi, and the Director of the Yemen Social Fund for Development, Osama Al-Sami.

Fatima, who is now 53, expanded her business with the help of more than ten loans from the Al-Awael Company.  Now she runs two ovens and employs five workers in her business.

“We have been supporting Fatima Fadhel and 12,000 others to start their own businesses since 2000,” said Mohammad Attya, the Chairman of Al-Awael Microfinance Company.

He added that they have five branches in Taiz, four of which are concerned with supporting women.

“Most of our agents are women in Taiz city. 98 percent of the 132,000 loans in our institute go to women.  They have proved to be successful, and they helped decrease poverty because their small projects involve other poor people, like Fatima’s project does,” he explained.

YMN is a member-based association registered in August 2009 under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. The YMN project consists of the microfinance member institutions.

The UNDP Resident Representative, Pratibha Mehta, said that the project aims to build supportive infrastructure to enhance the capacity of local institutions to provide a range of financial services and products to the entrepreneurial poor.

She said that the project also helps widen the scope for participation of youth and women in economic activities and creates job opportunities.

Mehta also stressed the fact that the project not only helps decrease unemployment but also creates confidence and dignity among those who are assisted.

However, she said that the project needs the fertilization of new ideas because it is still only in its first stage.

Sharar Al-Muliki, the YMN managing director, said that the project faces challenges in Yemen. Some people believe that taking a loan is a form of usury, which is forbidden in Islam.

Therefore, he said that the project offers two kinds of loans, conventional loans and Islamic loans as a way to encourage people to join the project even if they believe that only Islamic loans, which do not require the payment of interest, are appropriate. 

As one of the challenges facing YMN is a lack of human resources, they will be organizing ‘training of trainers,’ (TOT) sessions to train new people who will be able to instruct those who take loans.

In Yemen, where 42 percent of people suffer from unemployment and poverty, according to the World Bank, microfinancing began in 1997 in cooperation with the Social Fund for Development.

YMN is a partner of Sanabel, the Microfinance Network for Arab Countries, which was established in 2002 in Tunisia to launch a network designed to serve microfinance institutions in the Arab world. In 2002, Yemen had two representatives in the network, out of a total of 17 representatives from seven Arab countries.

Currently, in 2010, Yemen is one of 13 countries that are members of the Sanabel network. The other twelve countries are Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Tunisia