During my recent visit to Yemen, I had the opportunity to see the many ways that USAID is supporting development in the country at this crucial time. I was particularly impressed by USAID’s successful effort to demonstrate to Yemeni farmers how they can boost agricultural production and conserve water use at the same time by introducing new technologies in the fields.
Yemen faces many challenges, and one of the greatest is critical water shortages. Water is a precious commodity, and nowhere is it more so than in Yemen today. Recently, a school rehabilitation that USAID is supporting in the central highlands of Taizz has been stalled by a local conflict over scarce water resources.
This scarcity of water is also having a serious impact on agricultural productivity. Yemen’s agricultural sector needs to adapt green technologies to improve efficiency and raise productivity. USAID’s agricultural demonstration site in eastern Sana’a is showing the way.
In early 2012, as the country was embarking on a post-Arab Spring transition, USAID’s Community Livelihoods Project supported the construction of a solar-powered greenhouse with a highly efficient drip irrigation system at the farm owned by the Sawan Agricultural Cooperative Union in Sana’a. USAID’s support did not end there. USAID also recently completed the construction of a rainwater harvesting system on the site, which will give it a fully sustainable water supply going forward. This is another step further in demonstrating sustainable water solutions where they are most needed.
The greenhouse has since successfully demonstrated that it is possible to grow ten times more vegetables compared to traditional methods while saving water irrigation use by as much as 70 percent. Not only that, the produce from the Sawan greenhouse is of a superior quality, with farmers using just a fraction of pesticides – less than ten percent – normally used in other greenhouses. This is really impressive, I know, because my husband is a “city farmer” and perhaps he should take a look at the Sawan Demonstration Site to boost his crop yields.
When I visited the cooperative, it was expecting to harvest 12 times more than they could reasonably expect from a traditional field of a similar size. The farmers I met filled me with hope for the future of Yemen. I met the sharecropper at the farm, who is now making exponentially more money than he did before the greenhouse was built. I also met some of the farmers who have been inspired by what they saw to replicate these technologies on their own farms. Not far from the demonstration site, six new greenhouses are now up and running. There are now at least 25 new greenhouses farther south of Sana’a, in Damar governorate, initiated by intrepid Yemeni farmers who have been trained at the Sawan Demonstration Site.
I am encouraged to hear that the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and the nationwide Agricultural Cooperative Union are now looking at ways of joining forces to support more Yemeni farmers in adapting these green technologies.
In Washington, we talk about our vision of economic resiliency for vulnerable countries and of “feeding the future,” or helping countries transform their own agriculture sectors to forge long-term solutions to chronic food insecurity and malnutrition. Our vision involves increasing the agricultural production and the incomes of both men and women in rural areas. My visit to Yemen confirmed to me how these concepts are translated into reality in places where they can promote much-needed stability. The happy and hopeful faces of Yemeni farmers and their children that I have seen must be a sign that we are doing something right.