Local beneficiaries engaged in the construction of irrigation spillways, which control irrigation and prevent soil erosion in Abbs district, Hajjah Governorate. | Photo credit: UNDP Yemen 2023. - Photo: 2023

Yemen: How UNDP Is Helping Agriculture and Climate Resilience

By Bernhard Schell*

CAIRO, 4 June 2023 (IDN) — Climate change has severely affected  agriculture sector in the Western Asian country Yemen, which employs a large number of workers and produces the majority of the country’s food.

A weak and fragile economy was further damaged by the country’s eight-year conflict, leaving large swathes of the population food insecure.

More than 17.3 million Yemenis suffer from food insecurity, with hunger and malnutrition becoming the most pressing issues. There are 1.3 million pregnant and nursing women and 2.2 million children under the age of five who need acute malnutrition treatment in Yemen.


In response to Yemen’s food crisis, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with funding from the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), works with the Social Fund for Development (SFD) and Public Works Project (PWP) to implement the Food Security Response and Resilience Project (FSRRP).

In total, 47 agricultural districts—all ranked low on the Food Security Index—will receive interventions aimed at rehabilitating and protecting their agricultural infrastructure and promoting climate-resilient agricultural practices to help communities maintain the sustainability of food production into the future.

By restoring degraded lands, developing irrigation systems, and improving farmers’ access to markets, these interventions improve households’ food security directly and indirectly.

Additionally, the project provides locals with the opportunity to earn a living while building valuable assets for their own communities through cash-for-work schemes.

Several projects within the framework of the FSRRP are being implemented by the Social Fund for Development in Hajjah, northwest Yemen. Sheraij Al-Ashraf village, in Aslem Al-Sham district, has been constructed with rainwater-harvesting reservoirs, and Al-Wasat, Abs district, has been equipped with irrigation canals and spillways.

To improve rural living conditions and mitigate the impacts of climate change, the project restores dilapidated community assets, including those affected by floods.


It is not uncommon for wells to dry out in winter, causing farmers to suffer huge losses as their harvests fail due to a lack of water, says Muhsin Al-Sharif, a farmer from Sheraij Al-Ashraf. Besides corn, we grow tomatoes, zucchini, okra, daikon, and watercress as well.

After the rainy season ended, life would become very difficult, since we didn’t have an alternative water source to irrigate our crops. Crops would die and money and effort would be wasted.

Ultimately, Al-Sharif says, the pressure was too much “and we were unable to cultivate our land for a long time.”

Consequently, the FSRRP intervention has changed that. According to Al-Sharif, rainwater-harvesting and additional irrigation reservoirs will allow them to continue growing even when the rain stops. The impact on his farm will be enormous. “I am confident that our agricultural production will increase in the coming season,” he says.

Sustainable agriculture

In Yemen, agriculture is an integral part of sustaining and securing livelihoods, especially after eight years of conflict. Even so, many farmers have been reluctant to cultivate large areas of arable land because of lack of irrigation water or erosion caused by floods and torrential rains.

In Al-Ashraf, the rainwater-harvesting reservoirs project, designed by SFD Consultant Adnan Al-Sabai, will restore lands and provide water resources for irrigation, helping farmers continue to work and earn a living. A total of 156 families in Al-Sheraij, Al-Jallah, and She’ab Al-Harbi will have access to irrigation water through the construction of three rainwater-harvesting reservoirs with a capacity of 900 cubic meters each.

As Al-Sabai explains, “before these interventions, farmers suffered heavy losses due to a shortage of water and the drying up of wells at the end of the rainy season,” which is why the project has long-term benefits. As a result of this project, farmers are provided with sustainable access to water, motivated to continue growing crops, and help address the impacts of climate change.”

Agriculture-related Assets

As a result of the FSRRP’s interventions, the agricultural sector is not only supported, but food security in Yemen is also ensured, as agricultural production meets local needs.

As part of the project, irrigation canals in Al-Wasat, a subdistrict of Abs in Hajjah, will be repaired, and spillways will be constructed in Al-Qafrah and Al-Manather to preserve arable land. By participating in the construction of these interventions, local farmers have earned an income through cash-for-work.

“Irrigation canals and spillways preserve agricultural lands from erosion during torrential rains and floods,” says 60-yeal-old farmer Ali Ahmed Afandi. In addition to increasing irrigation levels and crop production, spillways protect agricultural lands from erosion and increase water retention capacity. “We can now save on renting tractors to fix the damage caused by heavy rainfall,” he says.

“We used to live in constant fear that torrential rains would destroy our crops and lands, but now everything has changed: we are now ready for the coming agricultural season.” says Afandi.

Farmland protection

According to Abdul-Ellah Yahya, SFD’s consultant for the spillways project in Al-Qaffra, Abbs, agricultural output had been declining due to land degradation—while most farmers were unable to afford to rehabilitate their lands because of the costs.

He explains how this project safeguards agricultural lands from floods and heavy rainfall, expanding irrigated areas and boosting crop output. Additionally, irrigation canals deliver adequate water to farms while spillways regulate irrigation, enabling greater soil saturation and protecting it from erosion which helps sustain its fertility.

This presents farmers with the opportunity to cultivate more than one harvest in a given season—an achievement that will have dramatic effects on their lives.

Agriculture and Climate Change

The adverse effects of climate change have increased in recent years in Yemen, destroying livelihoods in a country already plagued by water and food insecurity, as well as land degradation. FSRRP’s goal is to enhance climate-smart agricultural practices so communities can continue to produce food.

Engineer Ahmed Salem, Agriculture Projects Officer and Assistant Director of the SFD office in Hajjah, explains that climate change is causing devastating impacts on agricultural cycles. Floods, downpours, drought and untimely rain can destroy farmlands as well as hamper agricultural tasks and yields, which further aggravates food insecurity.

To address this challenge, rehabilitation of irrigation canals and construction of spillways were implemented in Al-Qafrah and Al-Manather villages in the Al-Wasat district of Abs.

A rainwater-harvesting reservoir was also constructed in Al-Ashraf village, Aslem Al-Sham, so farmers could continue cultivating their lands to make a living and to provide sustainable sources of supplementary irrigation. Several farmers abandoned farming in the area because of flooding and torrential rains, causing land damage and soil erosion.

In addition to restoring these lands and protecting other areas, the project will ease the struggles of farmers who depend on crop farming and livestock breeding for their livelihood.

Funded by the World Bank’s IDA, the Yemen Food Security Response and Resilience Project is being carried out by the UNDP, The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

The UNDP’s USD 64 million contribution to FSRRP centres around enhancing agricultural production infrastructure, incorporating climate resilience and is done in partnership with the Social Fund for Development as well as the Public Works Project.

*This report is based on a UNDP Yemen Feature https://undpyemen.exposure.co/improving-agricultural-production-and-building-climate-resilient-communities-in-yemen?source=share-UNDPYemen [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Local beneficiaries engaged in the construction of irrigation spillways, which control irrigation and prevent soil erosion in Abbs district, Hajjah Governorate. | Photo credit: UNDP Yemen 2023.

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