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Food security in Yemen

Working papers

Written by Edward Thomas

Yemen is a food-insecure country. For several decades, domestic food production has declined and food imports have increased. Conflict and economic crisis have made it much more difficult for Yemen to finance these imports. Food import dependence has increased with each transition, and this dependence has deepened food insecurity. Since the start of the conflict, import restrictions and a foreign exchange crisis in Yemen’s fragmented and under-resourced financial systems have aggravated food insecurity. Yemen’s formal private sector, dominated by a few conglomerates, is allied with state elites and focused on the import trade. The consumption economy which the large importers have conjured into existence is tied up with the decline of agricultural production: the formal private sector invests almost nothing in agriculture.

Paper 1 describes the historical development of the food import trade in a predominantly rural and agrarian country which has undergone a succession of harsh economic and agrarian transitions. These transitions have left Yemenis dependent on markets for food, and pushed many food producers to the impoverished margins of the market. This report uses customs and agricultural production data to quantify import dependence in 2020, estimating that four-fifths of available calories are imported. The report argues that Yemen’s large conglomerates need macro-economic stability and access to foreign exchange to maintain this vital supply of imported food.

Paper 2 asks whether domestic production in a predominantly rural and agrarian country can be expanded – and whether the private sector could support that expansion. The disconnects between commercialisation, productivity, ecological sustainability, equity and food security present policy-makers with difficult choices. This report argues that promoting domestic production requires an understanding of these choices, because domestic production is central to both the development and humanitarian agendas.