Dr. Sharafaddin Saleh
The region of present-day Yemen is generally considered to be the first in the world to practice flood based farming, dating back thousands of years. The spate-irrigated areas, consisting about 120.000 ha, are considered the most important and fertile agricultural lands in Yemen. These include Wadi Zabid, Wadi Mawr, Wadi Rema and Wadi Siham in the western Tihama region. The spate systems are suitable for the production of grains, fruits, fodder and livestock. Assisted by grants and loans from development partners, the Yemeni government has made great investments in new as well as improved spate irrigation system constructions since the 1950s, including diversion bunds and water distribution canals. The objective has been to expand the irrigated land and increase agricultural and livestock production.
The FBLN Yemen Chapter has worked towards the improvement of the country’s spate irrigated areas as part of several projects. Over the years, numerous knowledge products (overview paper and practical notes) have been produced, and spate policy documents have been supported. Spate irrigation curricula were introduced at four universities, including courses on hydraulic structures, irrigation methods and agronomy. Numerous Water User Associations have also been involved in farmer experience sharing events. For the latter, several videos have been produced related to best practices in water management, to show to the farmers.
Spate irrigation has a long history in Yemen and many people are of the opinion of that spate irrigation has been ‘invented’ in Yemen. Certainly the Marib Dam – which was the backbone of the empire of the Queen of Sheba is testimony to a long history.
Currently spate irrigation still accounts for 11% of the agricultural area in the country. Spate irrigation moreover is closely associated with groundwater recharge.
In the Red Sea Coast area (Tihama and close to Aden) there are series of large wadi systems. Many of these systems were modernized in the seventies and eighties (and in some wadis it still continues). This modernization consisted of large civil engineering works, controlling water at a single point. This modernization by and large has not been successful. It exacerbated inequity and caused sedimentation of the command area. Public sector organizations took over operation and maintenance, but over time these were faced with increasingly inadequate budgets.
The spate systems in Hadramawt and in the interior of the country are generally smaller. Support of these systems has also been by way of civil engineering improvements on headworks. In these smaller systems this has generally given less problems with distribution and sedimentation, yet also here opportunities in improving water distribution and strengthening local management have not been utilized.
There is now a cautious movement towards farmer participation in Yemen, but still there is relatively little understanding and experience of: