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The future of terrace farming in Yemen: A development dilemma


The country of Yemen, on the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, is one of the most extensively terraced areas in the world. There is a well-documented tradition of both dryland and irrigated farming over the past three millennia and much of the indigenous agricultural knowledge survives. Development efforts over the past two decades in the north of Yemen have focused on expansion of tubewell irrigation at the expense of the major land use on dryland terraces and traditional subsistence crops. Despite millions of dollars in aid, Yemen is far from agriculturally self-sufficient and its scarce water resource is rapidly being depleted. This articles explores the relevance of indigenous Yemeni knowledge of agriculture and the environment for the future of terrace farming in the country. It is argued that farmer knowledge can contribute to sustainable production and can be grafted on to modern methods and technology. Within Yemen the existing community support networks and pride in national heritage would assist in a reinvestment effort for the existing resource of the terraces.

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Daniel Martin Varisco is an anthropologist, Arabist, and consultant in development and conservation. In 1978–80 he conducted an ecological field study of tribal farmers in a highland valley of Yemen. In 1989 he led a team compiling the Biological Diversity Assessment of North Yemen. He has also carried out anthropological research in Egypt and Qatar. Varisco is currently a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at SUNY, Stony Brook.

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Varisco, D.M. The future of terrace farming in Yemen: A development dilemma. Agric Hum Values 8, 166–172 (1991).

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  • Scarce Water
  • Agricultural Economic
  • Community Support
  • Sustainable Production
  • Arabian Peninsula