There continues to be limited information about the proximate causes of food insecurity in Yemen because of the high levels of insecurity and uncertainty in the future.
Farmers reported a late onset of rains in the highland zones (North East and Southern part of Amran, southern part of Dhmar and northern part of Ibb) and they are still preparing their lands for planting. Land preparation in Abyan and parts of Hajah, Hodeidah, Taizz, and Lahj is underway and planting is almost complete in the southern part of Hadramout, Al Mahrah and Shabwah areas. Weeding is almost complete in the Saad’a area. Although it is too early to estimate the outcome of the agricultural year, as the season has just started, the ECMWF seasonal rainfall forecast for April-May-June 2011, indicates heighten probability of below normal rainfall in some parts of Yemen. The vegetation conditions are gradually improving as a result of the on-going rains, especially in the western region.
Yemen’s food availability is essentially dependent on commercial imports and the country is highly vulnerable to international market price volatility, as was demonstrated during the 2007/08 food price crisis. Given that 96 percent of Yemenis are net food buyers, high food prices will play a significant role in household food insecurity. The gradual price increase of wheat flour over the past seven months has reduced the purchasing power of highly food insecure households.
As of April 2011, wheat prices have risen because of the high level of insecurity in Yemen. The price of wheat has risen by 10 percent compared to the past month and is now 79 percent higher than the last five-year average. Food prices are relatively high and reaching the peak of the 2008 food-price crisis level. The same trend has been observed in Shabwah, Aden, and Al Hudaydah. As of the second week of April 2011, retail prices for imported wheat in Aden had risen by 12 percent and in Al-Hodeidah by 27 percent compared to March 2011, despite good harvests and adequate availability. As the increase has started before the long lean season and with the ongoing conflict, more households may continue to face serious food deficits. Prices are expected to continue rising through June in Sana’a before a slight decrease in July.
High food prices are usually observed during the lean season in Sana’a. However, the substantial rise in prices this year has significantly increased the number of food insecure people in Yemen. Imported wheat flour prices have increased in Sana’a market by 79 percent compared to April 2010, threatening the livelihoods and food security of many people who depend on the market. The Minister of Commerce reported that Yemenis have begun to store staple food commodities, like wheat flour and sugar, due to fears of a worsening political situation. The Minister stated that there is an association between insecurity and rising food prices.
Cooking gas shortages have been recently reported and are reaching a critical level. Limited availability as well as increased prices, from 1000YR to 2500 YR and more, have already led to a number of security incidents.
Tension between government supporters and anti-government protesters continue in most major cities in Yemen, including the capital city Sana’a. Market places, supermarkets, and shops remained closed in Aden, Few food retailers are still open in other southern cities (Abyan, Taizz, Ibb) because of frequent demonstrations and protester threats, limiting access to food for all groups. As a result, the majority of the population struggles to obtain the necessary food such as wheat, flour, rice, sugar, fish, and other staples at high prices.
It is feared that the current insecurity in the north might continue even after the end of the demonstration which will affect the current 2011 agricultural and trade activities in the areas. More IDPs are expected and the food security situation is likely to worsen by May/June 2011 if there is no cease fire.
The impact of insecurity and high prices on crop conditions in this area merits close monitoring. The current security situation might lead to civil conflict which could impact the current 2011 agricultural season. People have begun to stockpile food commodites as a contingency plan against unforseeable events. This has been happening since the demonstrations spread from the country’s main cities to governorates such as Al Hodeidah, Al Jawf, and Al baidah. In Aden governorate, people have also been storing water, as the city once experienced severe water scarcity during similar situations.
Currently, the food security situation in Yemen is worse compared to the same period in 2010 when the situation was critical as a result of the 2009 low rainfall and the conflict in the Saad’a area. The situation is expected to worsen further over the coming months due to the high level of civil insecurity and food prices. (April, 2011)