For Zara’a – a 65-year-old single mother who is raising her six children alone – finding self-sufficiency and a route out of poverty seemed unlikely. Her life was like that of many rural Yemeni women, a country facing multiple environmental, financial, and social challenges that have been made worse by years of conflict.

Two-thirds of the population require support to survive, and more than 16 million people will likely face hunger this year. The situation is so dire that on 1 March, the United Nations called for US$ 3.85 billion in immediate funding. This is what is required to prevent large-scale famine in Yemen, where half of the country’s children under the age five will suffer from acute malnutrition this year – including 400,000 who could die without urgent intervention.

Making matters worse, these conditions are coupled with dramatic economic decline and severe disruption to businesses because of the ongoing conflict.

To help combat this, the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP's) Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Programme (YECRP) – in partnership with the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) – has been diligently working with our local partner, the Small and Micro Enterprise Service (SMEPS), to keep businesses in the livestock sector going. Our efforts have dramatically changed Zara’a’s and others lives for the better.

Raising a family alone

Zara’a has worked in animal husbandry for nearly 20 years, but when her husband left her, she was forced to work and raise their three boys and three girls alone. She began raising goats and sheep for the families from the Al-Akama village, east of Al-Hodeidah, in exchange for one head of livestock from every two animals born.

Zara'a watches her livestock graze | Photo Credit: UNDP Yemen/2021

 

Despite her work, Zara’a struggled, eking out an existence for her and her children. While the agreement she had with the animal owners offered the potential to grow her own flock, Zara’a was often forced to sell the lambs she received as payment to feed and take care of her family.

In the scorching heat, Zara’a travels long distances with the sheep and goats, hoping to find green pastures on free land. She explains that she goes walking with the sheep from sunrise to sunset, leaving her eldest daughter to take care of her younger sisters and older brother. The latter used to help with the herding but he has been bedridden for over five years now with health problems. Without his help, Zara’a says she was forced to send her middle son, Ibrahim, to work far away in the Dhamar Governorate.

“Our family is big and the livestock we got was sold for food,” she explains. Often, they were left with nothing – and certainly no room for anything more than essentials. “If a family member got sick, we could not afford treatment,” adds Zara’a, who has been unable to get help for her eldest son.

After a full day of grazing, Zara'a and her sheep head home before dark. | Photo Credit: UNDP Yemen/2021

 

Livestock and training

Today, Zara’a’s life is very different. She still goes out to graze her animals, but now it is her own livestock – not the animals of other people – and, after being supported by YECRP, she is working for herself and her family.

Zara’a says she never imagined her life could be like this. “When YECRP offered us seven heads of livestock, we returned the animals that we had been raising in partnership [with people from the village]. Thankfully, we no longer needed them.”

Zara’a receives training in how to prepare feed additives. | Photo Credit: UNDP Yemen/2021

 

Zara’a is one of over 1,230 woman livestock breeders in rural areas who were supported by YECRP, where barns were built and where each farmer received four pregnant sheep and three fattening rams.

YECRP also supported the breeders with concentrated feeds for fattening sheep, breeding fodder, salt blocks, and moulds, as well as provided 18 types of treatments to keep the animals healthy. The project conducted awareness and prevention sessions on common diseases that spread between people and animals; ensured barns were well-constructed to help prevent these diseases; and distributed clothing and tools for cleaning the barns. Breeders also received training in the proper methods of handling, breeding, fattening, and raising livestock.

After learning more effective animal husbandry techniques, Zara’a can now raise a ram to sale in just three months instead of the eight months it used to take. She also earns more for the fatter animals she now knows how to raise.

Each woman livestock breeder also received around US$300 of cash assistance to buy feed and other essentials, as well as disinfectants and detergents to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Zara'a greets the day with a smile as she grazes her growing flock. | Photo Credit: UNDP Yemen/2021

 

Wider Impact

The support received by the breeders served as an incentive for them and their families to work hard to increase the production of their livestock. Zara’a’s son, Ibrahim, is such an example.

According to his mother, when he saw the lambs, he was very excited because he knew they represented new opportunities for the family. So with his savings, he bought five more female lambs for his mother to raise. Today, she is the owner of 55 heads of livestock.

“I love all my sheep as if they were my children,” she says, adding: “We have overcome the poverty and hunger we faced for many years. Now I can provide food, drink, and clothing for my sons and daughters.”

The family’s newfound opportunities go far beyond being able to provide the daily necessities – they have given Zara’a hope for the future and transformed Ibrahim’s life, offering him new chances to help the family and start one of his own. He had dreamed of marriage for years, but the family’s poverty made it impossible. Now, after his mother sold 10 rams and added the money to what Ibrahim earned while working away from home, he was able to marry.  

Zara’a: Livestock farmer and mentor

Now that she has been trained in the most effective animal husbandry techniques, Zara’a has become a destination for her neighbours, sharing her knowledge on the methods and means of raising and breeding livestock. “They all come to me to learn how to fatten their sheep,” she says.

The simple support and empowerment provided through YECRP have lifted a burden off Zara’a’s shoulders in terms of simply securing daily food for her family. She now has a lot of energy and time to take care of her animals – and she has hopes for the future. Zara’a talks of breeding a huge number of livestock to sell in order to cover the medical costs for treating her eldest son.

Zara’a, her family, and her livestock are a examples of how providing support can help create a promising future for rural women to be self-sufficient, realise their dreams, and lift them from poverty.

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Funded and supported by the World Bank’s International Development Association, the Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP) is implemented by the Social Fund for Development (SFD) and the Public Works Project (PWP) in partnership with UNDP Yemen. The US$400 million project provides economic stimuli in the form of large cash-for-work projects, support to small businesses, and labour-intensive repairs of socio-economic assets, benefiting vulnerable local households and communities across Yemen.

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