Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profiles


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Ali Abdulmalek Alabsi

1. Introduction
2. Soils and Topography
3. Climate and Agro-ecological Zones
4. Ruminant Livestock Production Systems
5. The Pasture Resource
6. Opportunities for Improvement of Fodder Resources
7. Research and Development Organizations and Personnel
8. References
9. Contacts


The Republic of Yemen is at the south western corner of the Arabian Peninsula, between 120 and 17.70 north and 43.50 to 520 east. It includes many islands, Socotra the largest in the Arabian Sea followed by Kamaran in the Red Sea. The country is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, Oman to the east, the Arabian Sea to the south and the Red Sea to the west (see Figure 1). The land area is about 555,000 km2 with a population of 17,100,000. However, according to the World Factbook the July 2006 estimate was 21,456,188 with a 3.46% estimated growth rate. Its capital is Sana’a.

Yemen had a distinguished ancient civilization. This is mentioned in The Holy Koran and is found in Greek and Roman writing such as that of Batlimos, Strabo and Bellini (Bafaqih 1985). This civilized status was achieved by the centuries old operational water storage and conveyance structures, such as the Marib Dam and the unique and spectacular mountain terracing. These confirm the early history of a wide variety of water harvesting systems in the various agro-ecological zones (Bamatraf and Ghaleb 1999).

The country’s history dates back to the foundation of the Maeen Kingdom in 900 BC; which was followed by Shiba Hadramout and Kotoban. Yemen was one of the first countries to respond to Islam’s call "Dawa" in the early days of the sixth century AD. It became part of the Islamic Omawi Emirate and then an Islamic Abbasi province in Asia. Yemen was then ruled and invaded by numerous Arabs including Alzidia, Alsolihia, Alzorieia, Al nagah, Alayobia and, Alrasolia, until 1345. Thereafter the Almamalik came to Yemen which henceforth came under their governance. In the sixteenth century (1538) the Ottomans invaded Yemen which become part of their Empire till 1628 (Nagi 1976).They left Yemen, to return again in 1840. The Southern and the Eastern parts were colonized by the British in 1839. The Ottoman left Yemen in 1918 and the British ended their colonization in 1967. Yemen was re-unified on 22 May 1990 and is now divided into 19 provinces. All the population are Arabs, the language is Arabic and almost all the population are followers of Islam.

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Figure 1. Map of the Republic of Yemen

Table 1. Crop Area, Production and Yields, 2000, Yemen


Area [000s ha]

Production [000s tons]

Yield [Tons/ha]









Sorghum fodder
















Vegetables +Melon











Grand Total




Source: Agricultural Statistics Year Book [MAI, 2000a]

Of the total land area only 1,142,000 ha is under permanent cultivation [Table 1], of which 53 percent is rainfed and 47 percent is irrigated land (12 percent spate, 30 percent tube-well, 5 percent spring). Cereal areas have declined since the nineteen-seventies but they remain the major crop, covering about 600,000 hectares in 2000, (about 54 percent of the cultivated area). Areas of rain-fed cereals are highly variable between season. Cereal yields are fairly low, between 0.6 and 1.6 tons/ha averaging 1.2 tons/ha. Sorghum is the commonest crop (Bamatraf and Ghaleb 1998).

Most of Yemen’s land area [75 percent] is considered to be natural pasture. It estimated that grazing resources contribute on average [in a normal year] about 40 percent of the total national flock’s energy requirements. This average varies from part to part of the country, according to location, soil, intensity of use, ground soil cover and topography. It is also greatly influenced by erratic annual precipitation. There is no actual calculation in energy requirement for animals in Yemen, but it was estimated that rangeland contributed to 53 percent to the total feed supply of sheep and goats combined in the Northern governorates of Yemen [Table 2].

Table 2. Estimated contribution to the total feed supply of Sheep, Goat, and Sheep and goats combined, from grazing, crops residues, weeds, and supplementary feed in the Northern governorates of Yemen
Livestock type Contribution to total feed supply %
  Pasture  Crop. Res. Supplement.
Sheep 48 33 19
Goats 60 25 25
Sheep + goats 53 30 17
Source: RLIP, 1988

Forest is about 5 percent of the total area of the country [Balidi, 1996].

Yemen has a population of 17,100,000 with an annual growth rate of 3.7 percent (according to the World Factbook the the July 2006 estimate was 21,456,188 with a 3.46% growth rate). The distribution of the population is not uniform and the highest densities are found in highland areas where there is relatively high rainfall.

Agricultural activities are the prime occupation of about half of the population; of the work force of 3,100,000, 58 percent are involved in agriculture, 10.9 percent are involved in trading and vehicle maintenance and 9.9 percent are the government sector social security, employees and army [Source: Central Statistical Organization (CSO), 1999]. Agriculture contributes 17 percent of GDP, and the proportion is declining. Livestock is estimated to contribute about 20 percent of agricultural GDP. Cereal self sufficiency is about 25 percent of the domestic use; the rest is imported with an estimate of 1,500,000 tons. Foreign exchange to pay for imports comes from oil revenue. However, since 1998 the government lifted subsidies on several food commodities including grain and flour, since then consumers pay the full cost of all food but in local currency. Overall food self-sufficiency is about 60 percent. The sector grew rapidly in the nineteen-seventies and nineteen-eighties, driven by investment, market expansion and promotional policies.

Agriculture Policy is now market orientated. Irrigation with mechanized pumping of groundwater has brought about self-sufficiency in fruit and vegetables. Rapid expansion of qat (Catha edulis) growing caused a reduction in cereals. Water resources are over exploited and productivity improvements to land and water use is the key to progress. Yemen has no perennial rivers; water is available from wadis, springs, shallow wells, deep boreholes and traditional cisterns that collect run-off. Various reports draw attention to the critical situation of water resources of the country. Water is diminishing in quantity and is deteriorating in quality. It is estimated that about 90 percent of water in the country is used by agriculture [Source: FAO, 1997a].

Land ownership varies by region. In the northern governorates 90 percent of farms are privately owned whereas in the southern governorate land belongs to the State as a result of the agrarian reform carried out by the former PDRY. The situation was reversed after reunification when most land was returned to its original owners. In the Tihama Plains relatively large holdings, of over 5 ha, are common. Wealthy urban families own large properties in the peri-urban area of Sana'a, Taiz, Ibb, Mahwit and Dhamar. In most of the mountain and plateau region holdings are small, ranging from 0.5 to 3.0 ha. [FAO, 1997a, b]. Grazing land is owned by the state as "Amlak" but people have traditional grazing rights, by pasture or watershed, which lead to what is called " Hand ownership".


Topography of Yemen varies widely from sea level to inter-mountain plains, steep slopes and rugged high mountains [3,666m]. According to altitude and geomorphology, the country has:

  • low altitude mountains [Western mountains-Tihama foot hills, Southern-and Southeastern mountains], medium altitude mountains [Western mountains, Southern and Southeastern mountains] and high altitude mountains. The approximate altitude of these lands are 1000, 1800 and above 1800m respectively.
  • highland plain,
  • desert, and
  • coastal plain.

Because of this topography and the geographical situation [12 to 170 north] favourable to tropical and sub tropical penetrations, sea influence and Saharan climate impact, Yemen has many favourable parameters and important diversity in terms of ecosystems and ecological sectors and ecological niches [Telahigue 1998].

Soils. The principal soil types in the various physiographic regions are as follows:

- The soils of the Coastal Plains are either alluvial fans or coarse inter-wadi soils. In wadis and flood plains the soils are loamy to silt and clay which is considered good agricultural land. The inter-wadi areas are dominated by dune formations and coarse skeletal sandy soils subject to wind erosion. The coastal fringes of the plains consist of very saline tidal flats or known as "sebkhas".

- The soils of the Western Slopes range from bare rock and very shallow soils near the mountain peaks, while stony and very stony calcareous soils with pH around 8 and low organic matter occur in the middle slopes. The lower slopes have generally deep silty and loamy soils. This region has relatively extensive alluvial loams and silt loams which make good agricultural land. Around Ibb [Southern Highland], thick loess deposits occur which have developed deep silty soils. The south of the Midlands is occupied by rock outcrops with pockets of shallow soils.

- The Highlands have large stretches of plains between the mountains which constitute extensive loamy, silty and fine silty soils on level surfaces, one third of which bear organic matter within the surface layer. Associated with these soils is a minor component of clay soils, which also have a dark layer rich in humus. These constitute very productive agricultural lands. On the lower slopes of the highlands silt loams and silty clay loams prevail, while the flat basins comprise silty and loamy soils. The Eastern Slopes region comprises mainly rock outcrops, with some shallow soils confined to pockets. Deep loamy soils are only encountered within local depressions and wadis.

- In the Eastern Plains, wadi flood plains have deep alluvial soils which are medium textured, while the restricted areas where flooding takes place regularly, have stratified sandy loams and silt loams. (FAO, 1997b].


Climate and the effect of topography. Yemen has a semi-arid to arid climate. Rainy seasons are in spring and summer. Three large bodies of water affect the climate: the Indian Ocean [including the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea], the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. They are the sources of moisture for the passing air masses.

The rainfall depends on two main mechanisms. The Red Sea Convergence Zone and the monsoon inter tropical Convergence Zone. The first is active from March to May. Its influence is most noticeable at higher altitudes in the west of the country. The second reaches Yemen in July - September, moving north and then south again so that its influence lasts longer in the south. Rainstorms in the winter months of December and January are attributed to the influence of the Mediterranean.

The climate is strongly influenced by the mountainous nature of the country. The topography is dominated by mountain ranges running parallel to the Red Sea coast, with three ridges interspersed by upland plains. These mountain ranges rise from sea level to over 3,600 m within 100 km from the Red Sea. In the Southern part of the country the ranges merge with ranges running parallel to the coast of the Gulf of Aden; ranges reach an altitude of about 2,000 m.

Seaward exposed escarpments such as the Western and the Southern slopes receive more rain than those facing the interior. Local topographic features cause similar lee side effects. Average temperatures decrease more or less linearly with altitude. The rise of the air masses over the mountains provides a cooling mechanism, which stimulates the rainfall.

The variability in rainfall over both time and space is considerable. Rainfall is predominantly in the form of localised storms. This results in great differences in amounts of rainfall over relatively short distances. A year may be relatively wet in one area, but dry elsewhere, even if distances are modest.

There is a clear relationship between mean annual rainfall and topography. Rainfall rises from less than 50 mm along the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden coasts to a maximum of 500-800 mm in the Western Highlands and decreases steadily to below 50 mm inland. Average temperatures are dominantly controlled by altitude. There is an approximate linear relationship, with an average temperature gradient of about 0.650 C per 100 m difference in elevation. At lower altitudes [below 500 m] in coastal areas, this relationship is disturbed by the moderating effect of the sea.

The difference between the average temperature of the warmest and the coolest months of the year is not constant over the zones. In coastal areas and the Western and the Southern slopes it is generally less than 100 C, but in the arid interior it increases to about 150 C. The average daily range is modest near the coast [less than 100 C], but may exceed 200 C at higher elevations and in the arid interior. Above 2,300 m frost occurs regularly between mid October and March.

Coastal relative humidity shows a strong 80 percent, while a little inland annual average values of 50 to 70 percent are observed. In the mountain areas values vary between 30 and 60 percent, except in the high rainfall areas where values are between 50 and 70 percent. In the arid interior values are below 40 percent. The variation of relative humidity over the year follows the rainy seasons, however, in the arid zones the relative humidity is highest in the cool season [Source AREA 1997].

Agro-Ecological Zones. Yemen has five main agro-ecological zones, The Coastal Plain, Western Mountains, Highland Plain, Eastern Mountains and Eastern Desert Plain [Scholte et al. 1991]. Rainfall amount and seasons, temperature and humidity are variable between these zones. This has led to great botanical diversity, as well as variation in growing seasons and quality of grazing lands. The mountainous area and the Highland Plain are Yemen’s main rainfed agricultural areas (see Figure 2). Most of the cereals and pulses are grown there and there are some vegetable and fruit orchards. In addition, the most productive pastures with terrace systems form the main part of the highlands that make it the most important area for cattle and sheep production. Terraced agriculture is an old Yemeni method of soil conservation and water harvesting. The terraces were built along the mountain slopes and have been farmed ever since. The cropping pattern is based on cereals (barley, wheat, sorghum) and pulses in the rainy season June-August when livestock are kept away from cultivated terraces and fodder is harvested to be fed either green or made into hay to be fed during dry seasons (winter period). After harvest grazing take place in several ways. This include stubble grazing which is mainly sold or privately grazed. After the stubble has been utilised by the owner or tenant, grazing become open for all herds until the next season.

The main crops in the Coastal Plain are cereals, vegetables and tropical fruit.

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Figure 2. Yemen - Land Use


Agriculture is a major sector of the national economy of Yemen. Livestock are estimated to contribute about 20 percent to agricultural GDP; agriculture was about 17 percent of total GDP, whereas livestock contribute 20 percent in this amount. The rest is from crops. In addition, nearly 80 percent of farms are either pure livestock producing, or mixed [mixed farmers 59%, livestockfarmers 20%, arable farmers 21%]. Women are prominent players in animal production which provides them with essential food, financial security and independence [Ward 2000].

Livestock in Yemen are mainly Cattle, Sheep, Goats and Camels [Table 3]. There are ten sheep breeds: Aansi, Sana‘a White, Amran Grey, Amran Black, Yemen White, Taiz Red, Dhamari, Tihami, Marib White and Socotri (there is no evidence of the source and origin of this last breed, but it is believed that sheep and cattle in Socotra come from East Africa [Alsaghir, personal communication]). Goats breeds are Yemeni Mountain, Taiz Black, Taiz Red, Surdud and Mawri.[Hasnain et al, 1989]. The local cattle are horned, small bodied Zebu; being Bos indicus, they have a thoracic hump which is larger in males and tends to fall laterally or backwards, especially in older animals. All cattle, sheep and goats are small. The average adult weight of cattle is 250 kg. Sheep and goats are 25 and 22 kg respectively.

Camels are mainly kept in Coastal areas and in the eastern desert. They depend on salty and thorny trees, shrubs and dwarf shrubs for their feed [Acacia, Ziziphus, Suaeda, Salvadora, Lycium]. Their productivity is not well documented, but they contribute significantly to ploughing and transport in remote areas in addition to their productivity. Wardeh [1989] stated that a female gives 6 to 7 young during her life and could produce 5,000 kg of milk per year with good feed. The daily gain of the new born could reach 0.8-1.5 kg if they get suitable feed.

Donkeys are kept in rural areas. They are usually left to graze freely. They are used for transport of fuel, water, crop, fodder, and goods as well as for draught. There is no statistical data on the donkey population and distribution. However, based on computer modeling done for the Mountain Plain the animals appear to play an economic role that should not be underestimated [Source: RLIP, 1989].

Farm animals are kept for meat, milk, sour milk [laban], butter [ghee] and draught power, together with wool, skin and manure. The livestock population has witnessed an overall increase between 1996 and 2000 as indicated in Table 3, below, but the differences between Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and FAOSTAT data need to be followed up and resolved.

Table 3. Ruminant numbers [,000] 1996 -2000 and 2005*































Source: Agricultural Statistics Yearbook [MAI, 2000a]

*Figures in the FAOSTAT database differ significantly from those in MAI, 2000a as can be seen for the two data sets for 2000. These differences need to be checked. 2004 and 2005 FAOSTAT data are also given.

Distribution. Livestock are providers of food and other products and contribute to poverty alleviation, food security, and gender equality. Livestock distribution is variable according to regions, feed resources and agriculture activities. There are 1,422,409.4 Tropical Animal Units in the highland, 604,382.5 TAU in the Coastal and 1,009,040.5 TAU in the desert region [Agricultural Statistics Year Book, MAI 2000a].Thus, livestock production systems vary from traditional pastoralism to agro-pastoral systems and recently small-scale intensive animal production units. Pasture-fed livestock has been traditionally practised and is a prominent feature of rural economy and agricultural activities in many parts of Yemen [Source: MAI, 2000b].

Extensive traditional system. Natural pasture is used by an overwhelming number of livestock that fully or partially depend on it for their sustenance. But the existing pasture can only provide an average of 40 percent of the nutritional requirement for the 4,800,000 and 4,200,000 sheep and goats respectively [Alsaghir 2001].The deficit is covered by grazing cropland and stubble, fallow land and supplementary forages and feeds. In the central mountainous area and highlands 45 percent of sheep, 35 percent of goats and about 80 percent of cattle are kept. In the coastal area farm livestock comprise about 25 percent sheep, 30 percent goats and 15 percent cattle. The Eastern and Desert plain provide room mainly for goats, camels and sheep.

Sheep and goats are left to graze freely, although sometimes small ruminants are herded by children or women in areas (central and western parts of the country) of high rainfall and substantial natural vegetation; natural grazing may contribute 80 percent of annual livestock feed requirements.

In the East of the country which is arid, water supply depends on limited, erratic and scattered rainfall over vast arid and semi-arid desert grazing land; the annual rainfall is below the minimum required for regular cultivation [200 mm] so pastoral animal husbandry is the only possible basis of subsistence and the means of using an important and immensely valuable resource. Animal requirements coverage might not exceed 3 to 4 months in the year (only 25 to 30 percent (Telahigue 1998) in these areas. To cover the deficit, the balance has to be provided through nomadism and transhumance. Yemeni transhumants usually stay in their grazing areas in times of less severe dryness or in summer for as long as possible and go as short a distance as possible to the water point or camp next to it. In periods of drought, the transhumants of the Eastern mountain areas usually wander from one part to another in the western high pastures with their small stock, sharing the grazing areas with the communities there as long as the end of winter and before the next rainstorms come at the beginning of the spring.

Nomads in the desert plains extend their movements outside their usual areas to search for grazing and water. But then, the groups follow a series of customary movements dictated by experience and the relationships established with other groups in the use of wells and pasture (Draz 1983).

Cattle in most places are housed and stall-fed all the year, but in high rainfall areas they are herded in summer. Cattle are additionally fed on crop residues and grasses. Milking cows receive some supplements of household wastes, some cereal and meals. It is obvious that the quality and the quantity of the available feed limits the productivity of cattle, sheep and to a lesser extent goats.

Natural pastures provide fodder; grasses and some browse shrubs and trees. Seasonal availability is a problem, when grazing does not provide enough feed supplementary feeding is necessary to avoid animal liveweight losses and lower productivity. Low digestibility of available feed and, most notably, low protein and mineral content is another limiting factor to livestock productivity.

During crop growth livestock are kept away from cultivated areas. After harvest these areas are opened to grazing by owners only, or community livestock. When arable land is not cultivated [poor or fallow] they are considered common grazing for community livestock.

Traditional grazing management systems. The traditional grazing management system [Hema] in Yemen is a pasture conservation and management strategy, which revolves around closing certain areas to grazing for a specific period; this period starts with the first showers and continues into the dry season to allow sufficient time for grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees to grow and set seed for subsequent regeneration. The system sets aside an area as a grazing reserve for restricted use by individual families, village community or a tribe as a part of grazing management strategy. Among the system’s merits is the conservation of desirable forage plants. It is also likely that scattered Hema areas act as a major or even ultimate refuge for a number of wild animals (Zaroug 1998). The "Hema" system had been in use since pre-Islamic times. It was continued as long as it did not contradict the" Sharia." It has been reported that the system was effective and widespread in Yemen until the first part of the second half of the twentieth century, when it began to decline in some areas, probably because of socio-economic factors.

Four traditional Grazing Management Systems identified by Kessler (1988) are practised in the Central Highlands and are also found elsewhere; they are:

A] Temporary Mahjour [Hema]: a sort of short-term reserve consisting of a slope or grazing area adjacent to cultivated land which is declared protected. The protected area is closed against grazing from sowing time until harvest each year.

B] Temporary village Mahjour; part of a village’s communal grazing land can be declared as protected for a specific period for the purpose of reserving forage to be used in the dry season.

C] Permanent Mahjour: the area of a hill or mountain slope of variable size opened for common grazing use during dry season and the period needed. It is privately owned usually by more than one family. Trees in Mahjour areas are always privately owned and are utilised by owners only.

D] Alabsi (2000) referred to a Semi Rotational system, which is found in the Desert Plain and practised by Bedouins. In this case their grazing land comprises many sites which are used at different times each year. Their use depends on vegetation regrowth and rainfall.

Intensive livestock production started in the last 20 years in Yemen. Several attempts were made and their success has been variable. Success or failure of intensive farms is related to management including animal health, feeding and breeding [Mubasher, 1990]. Most of these farms are government-managed by employees with central budgets and audit mechanisms or in the private sector (see Table 4). Intensive livestock farming brings a large number of animals into small area where their feed requirement is well over the productivity of the land. Furthermore, intensive livestock farms need to apply strict feed policy, veterinary care and vaccination. Friesian cattle are raised in the dairy farms while the local sheep and cattle are raised in the fattening farms.

Table 4. Farm animal production system activity according to sector ownership
Type Dairy farm Animal no. Fattening farm Animal no.
Government 3 1290 1 800
Agriculture Cooperative Union 3 490 None None
Private sector 3 1600 1 1000
Source: AOAD 1997

Meat production. Red meat is produced from cattle, sheep, goats and camels (see Table 5). About 90-95 percent is produced and totally consumed in Yemen. Interestingly, although the MAI and FAOSTAT data for ruminant numbers are different for 2000 (see Table 3) the meat and milk data in table 5 are similar. The MAI meat figures appear not to include sheep, goat and camel meat (and appear to be only for beef and veal) as the total meat production in 2000 and 2004 according to FAOSTAT was 168, 040 and 206,522 mt (and 206,584 mt for 2005) . Similarly total milk production in 2000 and 2004 is given in FAOSTAT as 245,179 and 263, 748 mt respectively (and 263,788 mt for 2005). Data for fresh sheep/goat skins and greasy wool production are given for 2000 and 2004 fromFAOSTAT (Table 5).

Table 5. Meat, milk, skins and wool production in tons
Item 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2000* 2004*
























Source: Agricultural Statistics Year Book (MAI, 2000a)
*FAOSTAT data; **Beef and veal production (mt); ***cow milk, whole, fresh (mt);****fresh sheep and goat skins (mt); *****greasy wool production (mt)

The modern red meat production system is represented by small fattening farms with a limited number of calves and sheep. In addition some dairy farms provide calves, and cattle unsuitable for breeding, to be sold occasionally

Constraints affecting livestock production. The major constraints facing livestock production in Yemen are believed to be:

A] Inadequate nutrition in term of quantity and quality is a determining factor for livestock production in Yemen. Livestock dealt with here are cattle, sheep and goats. The amount of high quality feed offered to cattle varies according to season and is not sufficient to provide milking cows with the required crude protein, energy and minerals. Hence, minerals, Phosphorus, Calcium and Magnesium, were found to be crucial for cattle productivity, in terms of milk, growth and reproduction. This can clearly be seen from the overall low milk production, slow growth of young animals and the long calving intervals. Sheep are dependent on grazing with some supplementation of grasses, legumes or crop by-products in winter when grazing is not sufficient. In the Highlands sheep are dominant and herded all year around. Sheep productivity is low in term of lambing and growth per animal unit per year. In the Highlands, with traditionally managed flocks, the lambing interval averages 9.6 months, lamb birth weights are estimated at about 2.3 kg, lamb growth is around 45 g/day, and hence liveweight output per ewe per year is less than their counterparts managed under improved conditions [Alsaghir 2001].

B] Disease. Animal diseases are another major constraint to livestock production. Epidemic and infectious disease claims large numbers of livestock each year. Main diseases include Rinderpest, Foot and Mouth Disease, Rift Valley Fever and Sheep Pox. In addition, non-lethal diseases and infestations of internal parasites cause considerable losses in productivity and condition. In some cases, internal parasites lead to infection by other diseases e.g. Liver Fluke and Black Disease (an acute disease caused by the toxins released from the vegetative forms of Clostridium novyi type B as they multiply in the anoxic lesions caused by the migrating flukes) that cause high mortality among sheep.

Despite the huge development in the veterinary services, the Government assumes responsibility for only a few strategic diseases. Furthermore, veterinary services do not reach the rural areas. In the past veterinary drugs were given free to farmers, but now due to economic reform, farmers and beneficiaries have to pay for services. Farmers have reached an advanced state of awareness about the need for animal health care due to great losses from disease. In most rural areas the lack of veterinary attendants at village or district level make access to services very difficult. On the other hand, lack of skills amongst farmers prevent them from undertaking any veterinary intervention.

C] Genetic characteristics. The genetic profile of livestock herds in Yemen is not monitored. Farmers do not practice the minimal requirement for breeding. Farmers take sires at random from the flock, but do not apply any criteria for sire selection e.g. growth, body confirmation and other productive traits. This has been going on for many centuries and has resulted in the low flock productivity due to in-breeding.

D] Inefficient production from high costs and high losses due to poor management.

E] Lack of quality control of outputs, and

F] Inefficient use of resources leading to degradation of natural resources.

Livestock and meat/milk importation

As home production is not sufficient to meet local demand there is considerable importation of live cattle and sheep as well as beef and veal and chicken meat and large quantities of milk products, especially dried milk (see Table 6).

Table 6. Statistics for live animal, beef & veal, chicken meat and milk product importation into Yemen 1995-2005

  1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Cattle, nos
77.1 54.9 72.7 95.3 99.8 84.4 1.1 0.5 46.4 125.9 n.r.
Sheep, nos
120 76.2 65.5 484 657.8 166.1 46.5 611 669.9 32.7 n.r.
Beef & veal
mt (,000)
4013 2280 2724 4756 3066 4193 3948 5188 6109 4584 n.r.
Chicken meat
mt (,000)
17.8 21.2 22.7 31.2 34.5 60.2 62.3 80.1 100 91.1 n.r.
Milk equivalent
mt (,000)
139.4 173.3 310.7 249 223.4 272.9 255.6 264.3 363.3 336.6 n.r.



There are four major resources of importance and relevance to livestock feeding in Yemen. These are:

1] Natural grazing and fallow land,

2] Sown fodder,

3] Stubble

4] Crop residues.

There are limited amounts of agro-industrial products including bran and oil cakes. Green leaves of sorghum stripped from plants before grain reaches the milk stage and maize tops cut at the same period are also important as animal feed.

Water points can be found in grazing land as traditional water harvesting bodies built many years ago. They are used to provide livestock and wildlife with water. These kind of water harvesting reservoirs are generally in wadis and mountain plains of highlands and in desert areas. Water (in most cases) is carried by donkeys to supply grazing animals at pasture or animals are given water when they return home. Salt supplements are still rare in natural pastures. Farm animals are usually given salt supplements at their pen.

Natural pasture. Grassland and woodlands make up nearly 42.7 percent of the land area. This natural vegetation cover comprises a wide spectrum and various species of trees, shrubs, grasses, herbs and annual plants and includes a number of succulents. These plants represent a relevant means of flexibility [Telahigue 1998] in climatic fluctuations and if properly managed, can provide sustainable forage resources the year round. The main natural forage resources are:

The Coastal plains. The fodder vegetation of this area is characterized by mangrove trees [a valuable forage for Camels], Suaeda fruticosa, Odyssea mucronata, Panicum turgidum, Acacia tortilis, Acacia ehrenbergiana, Ziziphus spina christi, Dobera glabra, Lasiurus scindicus, Dactyloctenium scindicum, Eleusine floccifolia, Echinochloa colona, Eragrostis ciliaris and Cyperus rotundus.

Cultivated fields provide a major source of forage for livestock, e.g. sorghum stover and crop residues as well as fallow land and harvested fields are valuable grazing areas. The natural grazing lands of the coastal plain are heavily grazed throughout the year.

Low and medium altitude mountains. The main valuable forages for livestock in this area comprise Dactyloctenium scindicum, Grewia populifolia, Indigofera spinosa, Commiphora myrrha, Ormocarpum yemenense, Dobera glabra, Acacia mellifera, Acacia asak, Acacia abyssinica, Grewia tenax, Ziziphus spina christi, Eragrostis spp., Andropogon greenwayi, Cenchrus ciliaris and others.

The region is very rich in vegetation and considered to be the most important area for succulent fodder shrubs and trees. These areas are a major source of browse for goats and camels. The area has a high content of endemic species. The degradation of these areas is more often due to overcutting than overgrazing [Al-khulidi, 1996].

High Mountains and Highland Plain. The main natural forages in these regions are perennial, indigenous tall and short grasses such as Andropogon spp., Pennisetum spp., Panicum spp., Themeda triandra, Dichanthium spp., Tetrapogon villosum, Chrysopogon spp., Cynodon dactylon, Aristida spp. and Eragrostis spp. Very desirable perennial and annual legumes are part of the vegetation in these regions such as Medicago sativa, Medicago lupulina and Medicago hispida (these latter two lucernes are usually part of the wild pasture flora) Trifolium spp. and Indigofera spp. Also Acacia origena and Acacia gerrardi; other shrubs are Ziziphus spina christi and Atriplex leucoclada.

There are also the introduced Acacia cyanophylla, Acacia salicina and Atriplex nummularia and Atriplex halimus. Those exotic trees were introduced to Yemen in 1979-81. They continued to grow under dry land conditions and produce feed for small ruminant in Highland areas of Yemen. Despite their full adaptation none are being used for multipurpose fodder production. Similarly, Acacia cyanophylla and Atriplex halimus are planted sporadically on community land and successfully grow in the Highland grazing areas. Farmers are planting them in natural grazing land, at the edge of terraced areas, around fields and at the boundaries of fruit orchards for fodder and windbreaks. Both plants are propagated or regenerate easily by seeds. It is believed that insufficient effective agricultural extension is being done related to promotion of these important forage shrubs.

The highlands area is one of the most important areas for irrigated intensive forage crops, cereals, fruit trees and summer vegetables and has the highest population of sheep and cattle.

The Eastern Desert has a high population of camels and goats compared to other regions. Forage trees, shrubs, dwarf shrubs and shrubby grasses are dominant in this area, such as Acacia tortilis, Prosopis cineraria, Prosopis juliflora, Salvadora persica, Aerva javanica, Panicum turgidum and Aristida spp.

Prosopis juliflora [Mesquite] was introduced several decades ago [no exact date and source are known] and has recently colonised many uncultivated hectares of land in the coastal and eastern desert areas. It also becomes an invasive plant in cultivated fields and irrigated farms. The seeds are mainly disseminated in animal droppings. It found a suitable environmental condition in Yemen and is very competitive with all other species.The plant was introduced to combat desertification and to stabilize sand dunes. Nowadays, many herdsmen consider it an appreciable forage supplement [pod meal] and firewood source. Farmers are against it and consider it an evil. This bushy plant is being currently exploited in Sayun by the rural as well as the urban poor to satisfy their domestic firewood needs. From experience looking at its growth habit, its disadvantages could be minimized with proper management, with regards to its harvest and cultural practices.

Pasture grasses and sown forage. It is estimated that livestock feed is grown on 116,165 ha and produces a total of 1,500,000 tons of feed [Table 7]. Further feed derives from areas cropped for human food. Pulses and grain legumes are grown on 51,468 ha and cereals on 619,457 ha. Yields from these areas total 63,073 tons of pulses and 670,331 tons of cereal grains, as well to straw, stubble and haulms.

Elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) was tried in Lowland fields under irrigation. Its average yield was 21 tons/ha of green forage (Ghaleb 1998).

Table 7. Livestock green feed area and production

Type of feed

Area [ha]

[total tons]






Fodder sorghum












Source: Agricultural Statistics Year Book [MAI,2000a]

Introduced and indigenous forage legumes. Considerable research has been carried out on lucerne. In a study in the Central Highland in the early nineteen eighties, eight introduced cultivars and two local ones were sown under irrigation. In spite of the high yield of the introduced material [86-147 tons/ha], none of them are in use [Table 8]. The reason is partly because of their high water requirement and the farmers’ attention is usually given to traditional cash crops.

Table 8. Fresh forage yields [t/h] of lucerne varieties


Second year yield

First year yield






Hairy Peruvian
























Kowly [local ]




Hunter river




Bahidi [local]








Source: DAIC,1983

The two local lucerne cultivars Kowly and Bahidi have been grown in the Highlands of Yemen since long ago, and are extremely well adapted to local conditions. Kowly is adapted to irrigation and frequent cutting, and is a good producer with a short flowering and cutting interval, whereas Bahidi is better for rainfed conditions and tolerates grazing. These legumes are very valuable, because of their very high quality feed for livestock. More than that, these plants can produce more nitrogen than they need for their own growth. This extra nitrogen can be used by other plants, so legumes not only provide high quality feed, but also improve soil fertility. [Source: RLIP 1979].

A number of introduced grasses have shown good potential when tested under rainfed conditions in Yemen. They are Agropyron cristatum and Dactylis glomerata, which are expected to produce more forage in winter, than in summer. For the summer Cenchrus ciliaris and Eragrostis curvula have shown the best potential. Agropyron cristatum produced 7.3 tons DM\ha when it was tested at the Range and Livestock Improvement Project land in Dhamar [Central Highland], [Mufareh and Briede, 1985]. No data or results about other grasses were included in this report.

Introduction of exotic trees and shrubs to rehabilitate degraded grazing land or to increase their productivity has been tried in limited areas. In the Highlands, species such as Atriplex nummularia, Atriplex halimus, Acacia cyanophylla and Acacia salicina were tried. Murtland (1985) estimated that a metre of mature Atriplex hedge will supply 3 kg of wood and 6.5 kg/annum of fresh browse and still provide sufficient shelter. Other studies reported that Atriplex nummularia can grow under more scarce water conditions (Briede and Kessler 1985). This drought tolerant fodder shrub is not only productive on its own but is capable of providing a lot of protection from the wind to increase the production of associated plants. The use of these adapted forage trees and shrubs is still limited because of insufficient investment in this field. Despite this success by plant introduction specialists many discussions and meetings in Yemen recommend the re-introduction of indigenous pasture plants as mean of rehabilitating grazing land.

Fodder imports. Animal feed is imported to fill the gap in animal feed requirement in the last five years. Table 9 shows how much the need for imported livestock feed (requirements) varies from one year to another.

Table 9. Imported animal feed in Yemen - quantity and value







Quantity [MT]












Source: Agricultural Statistics Year Book [MAI, 2000a]


Small ruminants and camels are more dependent on grazing than cattle, with the exception of the high rainfall areas and the highlands of the far eastern side of Yemen [AlMahara Governorate], where cattle also depend on natural grazing. The natural grazing lands are declining in productivity and show undesirable shifts in floristic composition and distribution because of the following:

Overgrazing. Overstocking led to overgrazing. This can be detected from the total removal of palatable biomass and the change of animal grazing behaviour and the increased proportion of unpalatable plants. However, in spite of the grazing pressure on many pastures especially in the western escarpment, overgrazing is only evident in some rural areas. These are normally in the outskirts of heavily populated areas in the highlands; the pasture mainly comprises annual and perennial grasses some of which have strong root stocks that can withstand heavy grazing. However, when heavy grazing is prolonged, even perennial grass roots become exhausted, their stands become weaker and coverage shrinks. This allows other mostly undesirable plants to become abundant, and hence symptoms of overgrazing emerge [Alsaghir 2001].

Low rainfall and subsequent drought contribute to and speed up overgrazing in the Highlands. However, in the coastal plains where rainfall normally does not exceed 150 mm, the annual vegetation mainly comprises dwarf shrubs, herbs and annual grasses; hence such pasture cannot support large numbers of grazing animals. But if grazing continues too long, then the pasture is more overgrazed as a result of high stocking rate and drought.

Erosion. Erosion is another factor affecting grazing lands. It is clearly visible on slopes, hills and mountains. The extent and the amount of erosion is influenced by type and severity of land use. The grazing of poor pasture, by large numbers of animals, will lead to total clearance of biomass and sheep may start digging the roots of perennials. The continuous movement of animals for long periods causes soil fragility, which increases wind and water erosion. This is exacerbated, especially in the Highlands, by the thin topsoil, which becomes more susceptible to erosion. Excessive erosion will reduce soil cover, water holding capacity and water retention.

Firewood collection. Many households in rural Yemen still depend on firewood for cooking. Trees, shrubs and dwarf bushes are becoming scarce in some parts of Highland and Coastal areas. Collecting of firewood by women and unemployed men, for cooking and for sale or for making charcoal, is still practiced in many areas. The effect of this is very evident in the common lands, as it not only eliminates vegetation, but also increases soil erosion [Sunkary, 1988].

Changes in land use. Size and the quality of pastures are greatly affected by changes in land use. This is because of the expansion of cultivated land at the expenses of pasture. This is very visible in the coastal plain and to some extent in the Highlands. In the Coastal plain large areas of trees, mainly Acacia woodland and shrub land, have been converted into irrigated crop land. Vegetation clearances for urban, semi-urban and rural settlements and roads are another cause of vegetation degradation in all vegetation zones.

Land tenure varies from one place to another. The ownership of farm land in most cases is by individuals, charities and "Wakf" (agricultural land that is made by legacy to use its revenue for charitable or religious purposes). Grazing land is owned by the state as "Amlak " but people have its ownership "hand" due to land use by grazing or watershed. Grazing rights also vary from one place to another and the location of the pasture (Zaroug 1998). Open pasture is grazed communally by adjacent and neighbouring villages. These constitute large areas and in many places are found to be overexploited due to overgrazing. Similarly, uses of vegetation other than for grazing (firewood collection) can also be communal and hence these areas are the most degraded parts. In low rainfall areas of Southern and Eastern Yemen, the area for community pasture and grazing right is vast, but the land is less productive and cannot produce enough forage. In dry seasons or if rain does not fall in time, herders practice semi-nomadic grazing. (Alsaghir 2001).


Opportunities for improved fodder productivity have been considered to lie in pasture rehabilitation and restoration; indigenous key forage and pasture seed multiplication and introduction of exotic adapted drought-tolerant forages and fodder shrubs and trees. Previous and recent experiences and activities are as follows:

Agriculture Research and Extension Authority (AREA)

Several studies and research activities have been carried out related to pasture and forage production under the umbrella of AREA. Some of these studies led to genetic resource plant collection and storage, Herbarium specimen collection, selection of some sites in the Highlands and in Lowlands to be assessed and evaluated for the purpose of development with the local community participation, and establishment of mother indigenous fodder shrub and tree areas.

Arabian Peninsula Regional Project (APRP) Phase II

The APRP provided some financial support to the Yemen Government for improving grazing land forage production systems, starting in 2001. The activities have been initiated under the supervision of the Agricultural Research and Extension Authority (AREA), coordinated, managed and carried out by the author of this paper and a joint team in three agro-ecological zones. The activities are related to pasture rehabilitation and restoration, seed multiplication for key forages and vegetative propagation of indigenous fodder grasses and shrubs.

Farmers or pasture owners in the Highland rainfed areas or in the Lowland grazing areas are attempting to revive and improve some limited sites in Sana’a and in Abien provinces with financial support from the Arabian Peninsula Regional Project. These activities have to be encouraged especially in dry areas by providing some incentives to farmers and herders who are willing to participate in such activities and contribute to pasture restoration and rehabilitation.

Range and Livestock Improvement Project (RLIP). The project focused specifically on extensive grazing lands, funded with technical assistance by the Netherlands and implemented under the umbrella of the Agriculture Research and Extension Authority.(AREA). The project started in the late nineteen-seventies under the Range and Livestock Improvement Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and in 1984 came under AREA and was terminated in 1989. The Project conducted extensive work and produced more than 40 technical reports on various technologies addressing rangeland livestock issues in the Dhamar plain and highlands. Research targeted included Rangeland parameters, utilization by sheep, traditional grazing management, grazing behaviour studies, introduction of forage trees and shrubs, etc. The results related to forage trees and shrubs are as per Table 10[Mufareh and Briede, 1985].

Table 10. Successful tree and shrub species in the Dhamar Plains.
Acacia aneura, Acacia salicina ( Forage trees)

Atriplex canescens, Atriplex halimus, Atriplex nummularia ( Forage shrubs)

Brachychiton populinum

Casuarina sp.

Cunninghamia sp.

Cytisus proliferus ( Forage trees)

Eucalyptus camandulensis

Populus nigra

Schinus molle

Source: Mufareh and Briede [1985]

Dhamar Agriculture and Forestry Research Development Project. (DAFRDP).

Trials at DAFRDP have shown that natural pasture under local conditions of management produces 600 kg DM/ha of natural grasses and forbs. This can be increased to some 10,000 kg /ha/annum with Atriplex halimus (Murtland 1985) - the report provided no data and calculation on how this was achieved. This project commenced in the early 1980s and extended through 1994. The project addressed several agriculture research and development issues, introducing many forest trees, few of which were fodder trees and shrubs.

In the same project, in an irrigated lucerne trial, a response to phosphate was obtained up to 200 kg P2O5/ha/yr applied on an annual basis. The optimum level of application was in the region of 150 kg P2O5 /ha/yr which produced 175 t/ha of fresh material in a two year period. Untreated plots produced 79 tons and were invaded by weeds.

Employed in combination these opportunities would add value to livestock feed and their products can contribute to increased food security and to higher rural incomes.

The Directorate General of Forestry and Desertification (DGFDC). The DGFDC is responsible for the management and development of forestry and desertification control in the country. It carries out its duties according to the following terms of reference:

* Suggest national policies related to forestry and natural grazing land and design plans and programmes to control desertification and improve rangeland.

* Foresee the overall national needs in the short and long term of the DGFDC for staff training.

* Participate in surveying and planning of programmes targeting sustainable management and development of forestry and natural grazing land including protected areas, reforestation and classification of forest and rangeland sites.

Community Participation in Land Resource Management. Under the Sustainable Environment Programme, the CPLRM project, known as sub-programme 4, is funded by UNDP and implemented under the umbrella of MAI. The project is sub-divided into four units, which are in Sana’a, Taiz, Hadramout and Shabwa Governorate. The objectives of the project are to address issues indicated as priority in the National Environment Action Plan (NEAP).

These include: water supply in rural areas, promotion of traditional grazing management systems and modern pest management. Modern pest management was introduced recently to Yemen. It is intended to use modern technologies and sciences in pest control, crop rotations, cropping pattern and avoidance of seasons of high infestation. In addition, post harvest treatment of field and stubbles is tried in order to cut the life cycle of some pests.

The four project units achieved some of the targeted activities to various extents. The responses in term of community participation in resource management were found to be strongly related to the immediate needs of communities and the urgency of the problems. The water harvest and supply, and flood control received the most participation. The natural grazing land improvement activities received some participation, especially in dry areas. Some fodder shrubs and trees introduced to some sites in northern of Sana’a are growing well.

  • Agriculture Research and Extension Authority (AREA), Sana’a, Yemen.

    Ali Abdulmalek Alabsi: a range management specialist, with research interest in the following fields;
    1] Planning for better use and management of rangeland,
    2] Traditional grazing management systems
    3] Genetic resources of wild plants and
    4] Key forage plants seed multiplication.

  • Southern Highland Research Station

    Ahmed Ghaleb: a soil and water researcher, involving in forage crop production research.

    Tel: 04210907

    Fax: 200061

  • Livestock Research Centre [Lahj]

    Mansour Khan: an agronomist, involved in fodder trees and shrubs research and grass seed multiplication.

    Tel: 02511755

    Fax: 02511754

  • Sieun Research Station

    Ahmed Bataher: forestry researcher with research interests in fodder shrubs and dry rangeland research



  • Alkawd Research Station

    Abdulla Grama: an agronomist, involved in forage production and rangeland rehabilitation research.

    Tel: 02406660

  • The Directorate General of Forestry and Desertification Control [DGFDC].

    Murtada Ahmed: an agronomist, with interest in extension and production of fodder shrubs

    Tel: 01250977.

  • Tihama Development Authority

    Adnan Abdulhabib: an agronomist involved in forage and grazing management extension activities.

    Tel: 03230163 or 03230174

    Fax: 235303


Alabsi, A.Ali [2000].The importance of Yemen Indigenous Rangeland Management Systems. Country paper, Workshop (The Place of Ancient Agricultural Practices and Techniques in Yemen Today), p. 179. Agriculture College Sanaa University .

Al-khulidi A.[1996] Forest and Range Resources Degradation and Desertification. Country paper, National Conferece to Combat Desertification. Sanaa, DGFDC .

Alsaghir, Omar [2001]. Feasibility for a Pilot Study for a Multi- Institutional Rangeland Management Program in a Rainfed Area in Yemen. Consultant Report.

AOAD [1997]. Arab Organization for Agricultural Development, Development of Red Meat Sector in Yemen.

AREA [1997]. Agricultural Research and Extension Authority Agro-Climatic Resources of Yemen. Part 1.

Bafaqih, M.[1985]. The Old History of Yemen.

Balidi, A.[1996]. Yemen Traditions in Natural Conservation. Country paper. National Conference to Combat Desertification. Sanaa. DGFDC.

Bamatraf, A. and Ghaleb, A.[1998]. The Importance of the Rainfed Agriculture in Yemen. Country paper.Rainfed Areas Conference in Arab Country.

Bamatraf, A. and Ghaleb, A. [1999]. Indigenous Water Harvesting System. Country paper. Workshop of WANA project,Tunis.

Briede, J. and Kessler, J.J.[1985]. The Early Development of Acacia negrii, Atriplex nummlaria and Cytisus proliferus at two sites with different surface condition. RLIP.

CSO, Central Statistics Organisation [1999]. Labour Force Survey Results -Final Report.

DAIC [1983]. A Comparison of Twenty Temperate Grasses with Local Kowli Alfalf Grown under Irrigation. Publication No.41

Draz, O. [1983]. The Syrian Arab Republic, Rangeland Conservation and Development, World Animal Rev., 47 p. 2.

FAO [1997a]. Watershed Management and Wastewater Re-use in Peri-Urban Areas of Yemen.GCP/YEM/026//NET.

FAO [1997b]. Underlying Causes of Desertification, Consultant Report.

Ghaleb, A. [1998]. Comparison of Water Use Efficiency for Major Forage Crops Grown in Yemen. Research report. AREA .

Hasnain,H.O., Al-noykhief, A.A. and Al-Iryani, A.F.[1989]. Cattle, Sheep and Goats Breeds of the Yemen Arab Republic.The Yemen Journal of the Agriculture Research, AREA,V1 No.1.p.11.

Kessler, A.A. [1988]. Mahjour Areas in Yemen. RLIP. Communication No. 16.

MAI, [2000a]. Agricultural Statistics Year Book.

MAI, [2000b]. Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, Feasibility Study for Aldalea Integrated Rural Development Project.Volume 1. Main Report .

Mubasher, M. [1990]. Present Status of Livestock and Proposed Plan for its Development in Yemen. Consultant Report.

Mufareh, M. and Briede, J.W.[1985]. Six year of testing introduced range, fodder and forest plant species in the mountain plains at Dhamar.RLIP.

Murtland, R.[1985].The potential and Value of Forestry Development in the Central Highland of Yemen. Information Note for World Bank mission to Y.A.R. DAIC .

Nagi, A.[1976]. Military History of Yemen.

Scholte, P., Alkhulidi, A. and Kessler, J.J.[1991].The Vegetation of the Republic of Yemen [Western Part] EPC and DHV Consulting. RLIP.

Sunkary, M.[1988]. The Genetic Resources of Range Plants in Arabian Peninsula. Genetic Resources of Natural Grasses and Forages. IBPGR., p.23

Telahigue, T. [1998]. Promotion of Traditional Grazing and Modern Pest Management Technique Component. FAO.

RILP [1979]. Trial on Alfalfa plants. First Annual Report.

RLIP [1988]. Proposal for Project Continuation.

RLIP [1989]. Computer Model of Livestock Production in the Dhamar Mountain Plains. RLIP. Communication No.35.

Ward, C. [2000]. Sector Note on Animal Resources. Consultant paper {World Bank}

Wardeh, M.[1989]. Improved Breeding and Production of Camels, The Conference on Methods of Improving Camel Husbandry and Productivity. ACSAD. p.9.

Zaroug, M. [1998]. Management of Traditional Grazing Reserve. FAO .


This profile was prepared in November, 2001 by Ali A. Alabsi, Head of Rangeland and Livestock Research Division, Agriculture Research and Extension Authority and coordinator of rangeland research in the Arabian Peninsula Regional Project (APRP). A periodic updating of this profile will be done by the author. For further information relating to forage resources in Yemen, please contact the author at the following address:

Agriculture Research and Extension Authority. Sana'a, The Republic of Yemen.

P.O. Box 13898, Sana’a University Centre.

Tel: 00967 1 371131


[The profile was edited by J.M. Suttie and S.G. Reynolds in December 2001/January 2002 and slightly modified in May 2006].