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How to Change the World


Addressing Extreme Poverty in Yemen

Michael Maxey 


The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission in Yemen is providing $30 million to finance a five year agriculture development project. More than 45 percent of Yemeni households have food-related debt, half the children are chronically malnourished, second globally only to Afghanistan, and the proportion of underweight children is the third highest in the world. While food is available in the local markets, families need increased income with which to buy basic food staples. The majority of the food insecure population is in rural areas and the World Food Program cites the need to increase rural incomes as a critical response to food insecurity.[1] With 60 percent of Yemen’s labor force involved in agriculture, the agriculture sector has the potential to provide increased incomes to the rural poor, improve family purchasing power, and reduce food insecurity.


Three critical areas must be addressed to determine how best to invest this assistance:


Increasing Access to Markets - What agriculture products have access to markets? How can the potential of these market opportunities be assessed in terms of increasing farm-gate prices for small scale farmer production? What can be done to remove constraints in order to increase productivity, quality and returns to participants in the agriculture value chain?


Promoting Local Ownership – How can support be provided in a way that promotes local ownership of the development initiative? What indigenous examples are there of locally owned value chain activities? What types of investments would strengthen these local initiatives and bring them to scale nationally?


Increasing Inclusion – What approaches can be used to promote gender and youth inclusion in agriculture enterprises that increase their income and economic well-being? How can we mitigate the potential for conflict as inclusion increases? [2]  


In addressing the three ‘I’s” as discussed by Duflo and Banerjee (Ignorance, Ideology and Inertia), USAID has designed a project to increase knowledge (assess and identify high potential markets), promote best practices (seek to create synergy among various entities – public and private), and provide an opportunity (support those who want to participate and seek their input into how the enterprise can be made sustainable).[3]   A key part of this approach will be development of commitment mechanisms (forward contracts for sale of agriculture products) that support long-term relationships between the producers and the market and create a “nudge” toward sustainable enterprise models.[4]


A program will be put in place to increase sustainable economic opportunities and decrease food insecurity in Yemen by supporting Yemeni men and women producers, processors, and exporters to cultivate and maintain strong, trusting relationships with high value markets. Support activities to increase agriculture productivity by promoting new technology and techniques, improve workforce quality through targeted training, promote market access by improving value chain linkages and creating strategic partnerships. 


[1]”The State of Food Security and Nutrition in Yemen” 2012 Comprehensive Food Security Survey, World Food Program. Interviews with the WFP Country Director for Yemen in October 2012 indicated that the primary constraint on food security in Yemen is the decreasing purchasing power families are experiencing through reduced wage opportunities and increasing food prices.


[2] This is particularly important for women in that in some instances domestic violence against women has increased as their economic assets grew within the family.


[3] Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo.


[4] “A well-timed nudge” Promoting fertilizer use with a nudge to savings






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