Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East. Some 35% of people in the country live below the poverty line, and the government has been heavily reliant on oil as its main source of revenues. Oil is by far the country’s biggest export.
However, reserves of oil are dwindling, and the country since unification of north and south has had limited success on a wide-ranging programme of economic reforms. Though less than 3 percent of land is considered arable land, agriculture still accounts for some 15 percent of GDP, and 70 percent of people in the rural areas make their living from agriculture.
There has been a focus on production of cash crops such as fruits and vegetables in the western plains of the country, where underground water is exploited for irrigation. Cereals have been grown in suitable rain-fed areas of the country, but there has been little encouragement to focus on cereals until recently due to their low profitability.
In 2007, cereals accounted for 56 percent of food imports.
To shield against the recent high prices and future price swings, FAO assistance to the country in the immediate term includes a US$500 000 Technical Cooperation Programme project that is providing poor smallholder farmers with 100 tonnes of millet, maize and sorghum seeds and 460 tonnes of improved wheat seed, as well as fertilizers.
More than 5000 vulnerable farming families will benefit from the programme.
The aim is not only to provide struggling farmers with inputs that are often beyond their economic means, but also to work through government institutions to strengthen the seed systems in the country.
Considering the lack of water resources in the country, it is important to develop hardy, resistant crop varieties that can continue to thrive even under stress. In addition, the virulent wheat stem rust, UG-99, which can wipe out wheat harvests, recently reached Yemen from Africa. So developing a wheat strain that is resistant to the sickness is seen as key to preventing future food shortages.