Interest-free loans to help farmers combat food insecurity, but is this enough for Yemen?

16 Dec

Henning Baur, principal advisor of food security at gtz, said Yemen needs collective effort to stop food insecurity. Photo by Malak Shaher

Malak ShaherPublished:16-12-2010

SANA’A, Dec. 12 – Yemeni farmers will have access to interest-free loans totalling around USD 200,000 to ensure food security in the country, confirmed an official from the Ministry of Local Administration.Yemen’s Minister of Local Administration, Rashad Al-Alimi, said that food security also depended on many other factors. The most important factor was water used for irrigating agricultural crops, he said.

“Food security is a concern for the region and Yemen is one of the countries that is most affected by the global increase in food prices,” said Al-Alimi.

He was a guest speaker at a two-day symposium about food security in Yemen and the challenges it poses. The event was held at Sana’a University’s Faculty of Agriculture on Sunday, Dec. 12. The symposium was organised by the university’s Post Graduate Studies and Scientific Research Center and the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ). Its aim was to increase the possibilities of a successful strategy to end food insecurity in Yemen.

The Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation, Mansoor Al-Hawshabi, said that the government was sparing no effort in increasing the productivity of crops in order to decrease food insecurity in Yemen. He said the government would continue to assist farmers in obtaining loans to grow crops for sale.

Al-Hawshabi said that the ministry expected farmers to produce 1.2 million tons of crops this year, and that crop production had increased by 20 percent during the past three years.

Despite this, around 32 percent of Yemenis face food insecurity. This means that one third of Yemenis – or 7.5 million citizens – do not have enough food, according to a report published by the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation in June this year. The report was conducted with assistance from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

A survey by the World Food Program (WFP) this year confirmed that food insecurity affects rural citizens in Yemen the most. The program states that food security only exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Qat consuming Yemen’s water

The Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation confirmed in June this year that qat irrigation consumes 30 percent of Yemen’s water. About 90 percent of Yemen’s water is used for crop irrigation.

The ministry also stated that Yemen should sharply reduce its qat consumption so that it maintains its current level of food production.

Al-Alimi said that qat farming should be reduced and that Yemen should apply rain harvesting techniques, rather than continue to use decreasing ground water sources.

“Before outlining the solution for food insecurity, we should realize that we have a real problem regarding qat. It consumes the country’s ground water,” he said.

“Irrigation is directly related to food security. Yemen needs a political decision to reduce qat consumption. The president [of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh] now only chews qat on a few specific occasions.”

Population, climate change and food insecurity

Henning Baur, principal advisor for food security at GTZ, said that there will be a greater demand for food as the population increases. He said that in Yemen, the population increases by three percent annually, and thus food production should also increase by at least three percent.

Baur outlined the challenges of decreasing food insecurity in Yemen. These include the rapidly increasing population and global warming, which will mean that crops will need more water for irrigation. In addition, Yemen will also need to import oil in the future. This means that more money will be spent on oil and less on food.

Baur said that within one generation, or 25 years, the size of the population will double and ground water resources will half. However, he said that these challenges should not prevent Yemen from ending food insecurity.

“Everybody should work collectively in their different institutions because this issue concerns us all,” said Baur.

Clemens Breisinger, from the Development Strategy and Governance Division at the IFPRI, said that as Yemen’s agricultural output remains flat, agricultural exports have fallen. Food prices have increased and Yemen is considered to have a very low level of food security.

But Breisinger agreed with Baur that collective efforts were required by many institutions. He said that the strategy outlined by the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation 18 months ago included other ministries as food security is a national concern. The Water and Irrigation Ministry will promote rain water harvesting instead of using ground water, the Health Ministry will encourage family planning, and the Tax Authority wants to collect more taxes to increase the national budget.

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