Yemenis abandon farms, seek food security in city

Mon Nov 15, 2010 8:17am EST
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By Mohammed Ghobari and Mohamed Sudam

BEIT AL-MASAJIDI, Yemen (Reuters) - As men and women pick corn and roll up the withered stalks in the fields of their tiny village near Sanaa, Humeid al-Masajidi says goodbye to a way of life his family will abandon forever.

"Starting next year there won't be any farmland here. This is the last time this land will be harvested. We've all sold the land," the 35-year-old farmer said, pointing to the fields around the village of Beit al-Masajidi, nestled beneath mountain peaks and dotted with scraggy sheep.

Yemen is grappling with an increasingly dry climate and a booming population. Harvests are shrinking as rainfall declines and groundwater dries up.

Farmers, 70 percent of the population, can no longer subsist on their own crops. Youths are flocking from the countryside to the cities in search of jobs to provide for their families.

"Food is not going from country to city here, but from city to country," said Gerhard Lichtentaeler of the German development agency GTZ, adding water shortages had made it impossible to sustain farming in many areas. The water table is falling one to five meters a year due to over-extraction.

One in three of Yemen's 23 million people struggle with food insecurity, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which is advising the government.

More will go hungry in future, with the population growing at 3 percent a year and water running out. Sanaa is set to be the first capital city to run dry, by 2050, experts predict.

By then, IFPRI expects global cereal prices to have risen 39 to 62 percent even without the impact of climate change, which may raise prices by an extra 32 to 111 percent. Yemen imports at least 70 percent of its food.   Continued...

<p>A farmer harvests qat in Hamdan district near the Yemeni capital Sanaa February 17, 2010. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah</p>