"We – women – help each other on our farms. When I want to take care of my farm, I call my fellow women to help me. The next day, I go to help one of them. That is how we’ve always done things, and we will continue to do so,” says Hailah, a smile across her face.
After seven years year of conflict, Yemen has become increasingly unstable, experiencing the collapse of critical services, growing unemployment and severe disruptions to the economy, including the agricultural sector. Even though only a small portion of the country’s food is produced domestically, almost two-thirds of Yemenis rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.
Women are the backbone of the global rural economy, making up about 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. Rural communities in Yemen have grown equally dependent on women for agricultural work, with women farmers, planting, irrigating, weeding, and harvesting crops.
From her home window in Bani Hushaish, Hailah, 60, watches her vineyard grow. For over 50 years, she has used many of the practices she learned from her ancestors. Just like her parents before her, Hailah plans to leave her farm to her children so that they can carry on the tradition and profit from their hard work.
This region, she explains, “has been growing grapes since ancient times”, and people use them for everything from vinegar, juice, and raisins to medicine. Of course, growing grapes requires a lot of effort and a depth and breadth of knowledge.
Even though Hailah has been growing many types of grape for many years, she saw a dramatic decline in their quality last year due to heavy rainfall, aphids, fruit flies, and mildew. By the end of the season, she and her family did not earn a profit because of a lack of sales, an increase in the cost of diesel, and the constant need to spray the plants to ward off pests.
As more than 75 per cent of Yemen’s population lives in rural communities and are engaged in farming practices, they are highly reliant on the local growing conditions. As a result of droughts, extreme flooding, pests, sudden disease outbreaks, changes in rainfall patterns, increased storm frequency and severity, many farmers and agricultural workers have been displaced, and their land has been abandoned.
Irregular rainfall and a spate of fungal diseases damaged a large portion of Hailah’s crop, a setback she shared with many others in her area. She reflects on her losses, “During last year's agricultural season, I couldn’t cover the cost of diesel used for water pumps to irrigate the farm and even the wages of the workers, the loss was significant."
By far, the greatest barrier to agricultural production is water scarcity and fuel shortages, which have made irrigation costly. In 2016, cultivated land decreased by an average of 38 per cent. As a consequence of longer-term climate change, rural households are projected to lose an accumulated US$ 3.5 to 5.7 billion by 2050.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has long recognized rural women as a potent force in building household and community resilience to respond to, and withstand, food insecurity and the effects of climate change. By supporting development initiatives, which help rural women access productive resources and equally participate in identifying priority needs of their communities, women are empowered to act as the important engine to sustainable recovery that they are.
UNDP, through its partnership with the World Bank, and in collaboration with its national partners - the Social Fund for Development and the Public Works Project – have introduced durable solutions, rehabilitating agricultural land, building and improving irrigation canals and networks, drip irrigation and supporting water conservation and integrated watershed management practices. These initiatives have contributed to the rehabilitation of 24,000 hectares of agricultural land and an increase in income and crop production for 7,720 of farmers across Yemen.
Through this partnership, Hailah - and another 70 grape farmers like her – were provided with trellises and hand tillers to help improve their agricultural production and income. Trellises help Hailah ensure that grapes are exposed to sunlight and airflow and train the vines to maintain a particular shape.