Solar powered water pumps help Yemeni farmers restore their agricultural livelihoods
“I am a farmer, and agriculture is my life. One of my biggest challenges was access to water. I grow carrots, potatoes, radish, watercress, onion, parsley, and garden mint. These vegetables need a lot of water to thrive; otherwise, they die, leaving my family and me with nothing to survive on,” says Rashed Abdullah, a 37-year-old Yemeni farmer from Ibb Governorate.
Yemen is predominantly a rural country, with close to 70 percent of its population living in rural areas. Irrigated agriculture is the primary source of food, employment and economic activity. Water scarcity poses one of the most significant constraints to increasing food production in a country where more than half the population requires food assistance.
Recognizing that agriculture is the single most important contributor to resuscitate rural livelihoods, it is crucial to support pro-poor sustainable agricultural production systems. Water management, transfer of appropriate production technology, improvement along value chains and creation of on/off-farm employment opportunities and income-generating activities are among the key intervention that need to be scaled up. In response, FAO and the European Union (EU) partnered to roll out a two-year USD 12.8 million project to enhance the resilience of 150 990 conflict-affected Yemenis while boosting their food security.
Rashed is particularly happy this morning. Today he is among the farmers benefiting from a solar powered community water well established by the FAO-EU project six months ago. This well serves a community of 400 people and every second week, the taps leading to Rashed’s garden are turned on to release the precious liquid into his farm. The project has set up 42 similar water pumps in various districts across the country.
Soaring fuel prices drive up the cost of water
“In the past, we used to rely on water from the neighboring village. When the war escalated four years ago, fuel prices rose sharply and pushed up the cost of irrigation water significantly. 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 forcing the owner to cut off our water supply,” narrates Rashed.
The sustained fuel crisis across the country has affected thousands of farmers who depend on groundwater for irrigating using fuel operated pumps. FAO, in partnership with the European Union, is supporting farmers by providing them with solar-powered pumps, water-saving drip irrigation kits along with training on improved farming practices.
Before the project, Rashed and other community members had gone without water for four years. Like many of his neighbors, Rashed’s farm slowly dried out. To earn a living, he would travel to the main market in the city of Ibb – 50 kilometers away – where he would buy vegetables in bulk. He would sell the vegetables in the local market, making an average daily profit of USD 4, much less than he needed to feed his 16-member household.
Oasis in the desert
One day while tending to his sheep in the field, he noticed the animals gathering around an isolated patch of green grass. He mobilized other community members to dig the area. They were pleasantly surprised to discover what he describes as “an oasis in the desert.”
With the help of this FAO–EU project, they were able to finalize the excavation of the well, lay out a network of water pipes to 40 farms and install a solar water pump together with its components. The project also helped to enhance capacity of the Water User Association to ensure the sustainable management of the well. The association received training on water resources management, installation and management of drip irrigation systems and maintenance of solar systems.
Rashed recounts how his family’s fortunes have 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 the 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 the conflict-induced crisis. Rashed’s story is proof that even in conflict-affected countries, restoring agricultural livelihoods can be a people’s greatest defense against hunger and malnutrition.