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The state of land and water resources in Yemen


Yemen contains by far the most fertile land in the Arabian Peninsula. Agriculture has always been extensively practised in the coastal plains, in the wadis, in the highlands, and on the eastern plateau.

The first Yemeni settled in fertile mountain terrain and near wadis. By 2000 BC, they were a prosperous nation. The rainfall in Yemen is irregular. To solve this problem, the Yemenis used stone breakwaters and weirs. They constructed weirs in every wadi, which achieved two objectives: first, preventing frequent damage to villages and farms that had previously been caused by violent torrents after heavy rainfall; secondly, maximizing the amount of the water available for irrigation during periods of drought.

On the high lands, terraces were built to retain water and keep the land fertile. In dry inland areas, wells were dug, sometimes to great depths, and the water used for irrigation. Tanks and reservoirs were built near springs and wadis to conserve the water.

These works helped in achieving significant agricultural development, transformed Yemen into a green land with rich orchards; at this time it became known to those who lived there as "Happy Yemen".

Agriculture is an important sector in the economy. It contributes 18 to 27 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs 60 percent of the labour force. The main commodity groups produced are cereals, industrial crops, vegetables, fruit and livestock. However, the role of agriculture is changing due to dynamism of these sectors, emigration of rural labor, and structural changes within agriculture.

Increase in population and economic activities have lead to increased pressure on resources use. The natural resources that support agriculture are greatly threatened; the old terraces have degenerated, lands are degraded and soil fertility has deteriorated. Desertification and dune encroachment on agricultural land are severe, particularly along the coastal areas, resulting in an annual loss of about 5 percent in agricultural land. These problems came about as a result of many factors, including land tenure system and insufficient enforcement of formal property rights.

Abdul Maged A. Al Hemiary,
Technical Director Of Renewable Natural Resources Research Centre,
Agricultural Research And Extension Authority,
Dhamar, Yemen

Groundwater is over-exploited, and the tendency to neglect the traditional systems is increasingly causing depletion of groundwater, deterioration of quality of water for irrigation and salinization of soils. About 70 percent of the total cultivated area in Yemen is rainfed, where 80 percent of the cereal crops are produced.

The full Yemen country report is available at the Gateway Web site:

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