Solar powered water pumps offer lifeline for Yemeni farmers

A FAO-EU project tackles water scarcity and rising fuel costs with new irrigation methods

Rashed Abdullah is smiling at being able to farm again thanks to solar-powered wells provided by a FAO-EU project in Yemen. ©FAO/Essam Alkamaly


Rashed is particularly happy this morning. Today he and his fellow farmers have their turn to access the solar-powered water well to irrigate their farms.

“I am a farmer, and agriculture is my life. One of my biggest challenges is access to water. I grow carrots, potatoes, radishes, watercress, onions, parsley and garden mint. These vegetables need a lot of water to thrive; otherwise, they die, leaving my family and me with nothing to live on,” says Rashed Abdullah, a 37-year-old Yemeni farmer from the Ibb Governorate.

Established through a FAO-European Union (EU) project, this well serves a community of 400 people in the southwest region of Yemen. Every second week, the taps release the precious liquid into Rashed’s garden.

Close to 70 percent of Yemen’s population lives in rural areas. Irrigated agriculture is their primary source of food, employment and economic activity. However, water scarcity has long posed one of the most significant constraints to food production and livelihoods.  

Even before the conflict, urbanization and rising demand for water had driven the price of the precious commodity out of reach of many poor Yemeni people. The conflict then caused fuel prices to spike, significantly increasing the cost of irrigation water, which is dependent on motorized pumps.

Recognizing the role of irrigated agriculture in resuscitating rural livelihoods in the country, FAO and the EU partnered to roll out the two-year USD 12.8 million “Enhancing Yemen Food Security Information Systems and Rural Livelihoods Programme” for 150 990 Yemeni people affected by the conflict. The project has set up 42 similar water pumps in various districts across the country. It also focuses on improving water management, scaling up use of appropriate food production technology, improving value chains and creating on/off-farm employment opportunities.

Water scarcity poses a significant constraint to food production and livelihoods in Yemen where close to 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas. Irrigated agriculture is the primary source of food, employment and economic activity. ©FAO/Essam Alkamaly

Facing one of the largest humanitarian crises in the recent years, Yemen is heavily dependent on aid. More than half of Yemen’s population relies on food assistance. This has been compounded by a fuel crisis across the country that has made it too costly for farmers to continue using the fuel-operated pumps for irrigation.

“In the past, we relied on water from the neighboring village. When the conflict escalated four years ago, fuel prices rose sharply and significantly pushed up the cost of irrigation. At first, we sold off some of our animals to buy water, but the price just kept getting higher leaving us with less money for food and medicine. Eventually, we could no longer afford it,” narrates Rashed.

Like those of many of his neighbors, Rashed’s farm slowly dried out. For four years, Rashed travelled to the main market in the city of Ibb – 50 kilometers away – to earn a living. There, he would buy vegetables in bulk and then sell them in the local market, making an average daily profit of USD 4, much too little to feed his 16-member household.

After scouting the nearby terrain, Rashed and his neighbours with the help of this FAO–EU project excavated a well, laid out a network of pipes to 40 farms and installed a solar water pump to power the entire system. The project also helped boost the capacity of their Water User Association by providing training on best practices in water resource management, as well as on installation and maintenance of drip irrigation and solar-powered systems.

Solar-powered wells have vastly increased food production and improved farmers’ incomes. ©FAO/Essam Alkamaly

Rashed recounts how his family’s situation has since changed. “Thanks to the project, we have now multiplied the size of my garden four-fold. In a good month, Saleh - my eldest son - helps me to sell our surplus vegetables at the market, and we make up to USD 500 in profits. In the end, we still have plenty left over for household consumption and my children can enjoy their favorite meal of fresh greens, chicken and Asida – a popular staple made of cooked wheat flour.”

By prioritizing livelihood programmes that strengthen a community’s resilience, increase food production and diversify income sources, FAO is equipping Yemeni families with the tools they need to earn a living even in the face of this crisis. Rashed’s story is proof that even in conflict-affected countries, restoring agricultural livelihoods can be people’s greatest defense against hunger and malnutrition.

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3. Good health and well-being, 6. Clean water and sanitation, 9. Industry innovation and infrastructure