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Yemen has long been renowned for producing some of the best honey in the world, but enormous losses have been inflicted on the industry since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011. Successive waves of displacement to flee violence, the impact of weapon contamination on production areas, and the growing impact of climate change are pushing thousands of beekeepers into precarity, significantly reducing production. In short, armed conflict and climate change are threatening the continuity of a 3,000-year-old practice.
The history of beekeeping in Yemen goes back at least to the beginning of the 1st millennium B.C. For centuries, this practice has been an indispensable part of economic life in Yemen, but today after years of conflict combined with climate change, thousands of beekeepers are struggling to survive.
According to UN figures, there are around 100,000 Yemeni households engaged in beekeeping and dependent on it as their sole source of income. Active frontlines prevent beekeepers from moving around the country to graze their bees. In addition, dozens of beekeepers have reportedly been killed when trying to cross frontlines while grazing their bees or trying to sell their products.
“The mountain chain on Yemen’s west coast is a historic center for honey production, but for the last eight years the same area has been a battlefield,” said Amin, a honey producer from Taiz, one of the cities that has been severely impacted by the ongoing conflict. ‘’The worst day of my life was when a rocket landed on my bee colony. Since then, the situation has worsened; the business is no longer lucrative, the bees are disturbed, and life has gone from bad to worse.”
The presence of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) presents a grave threat to all Yemenis, as there are more than 1 million land mines and improvised explosive devices scattered all over the country, killing and maiming civilians on a daily basis. Being a beekeeper in areas highly impacted by violence means further risk of being targeted by parties to the conflict while grazing bees in places close to active front lines. This situation has forced thousands of beekeepers to desert the honey industry and practice other occupations which require less movement. “I’m forced to stay in my area which is also forcing me to depend on only one season of production and that is not enough to be able to support my children,” said Youssef a beekeeper from Hajja governorate.
To make matters worse, Yemen, like many conflict-affected countries, is disproportionately affected by climate change. Temperature rises in recent years, combined with severe alterations caused to the environment, are disturbing the bees’ ecosystem which is impacting the pollination process. In 2022, there have been lower-than-usual precipitations. With water tables falling and increased desertification, areas previously engaged in agricultural activities and bee-keeping no longer sustain these livelihoods.
“I don’t only blame the conflict for what happens to us. There have not been any rains in months, and there are fewer flowers,” said Amin, the honey producer from Taiz. “My children had to drop out of school to work in other sectors as my business is no longer enough to meet my family’s needs,” he added.
Yemen is already witnessing an alarming level of food insecurity with more than 16 million Yemenis who are food insecure. In Hajjah, Amran and Al Jawf, there are nearly 50,000 people are living in famine like conditions according to WFP reports. Across Yemen vulnerable families are being pushed to the brink by the combined impact of armed conflict and climate change.