Make coffee not war: Brewing up peace in Yemen

Make coffee not war: Brewing up peace in Yemen
Feature: Despite the fierce war devastating Yemen, activists have not lost faith in the power of coffee beans, one of Yemen’s oldest exports, symbolising its past and, hopefully, its future.
3 min read
17 December, 2015
Can coffee help bring Yemenis together again? [AFP]
An initiative to revive and promote Yemeni coffee as a symbol of peace has been launched in Sanaa, in parallel with the Geneva peace process many here hope will bring an end to the conflict in the South Arabian nation.

The week-long initiative started on Sunday, and several coffee shops in Yemen's capital have joined the effort - which also seeks to encourage farmers to grow coffee beans.

Coffee is one of Yemen's most famous crops, and is closely linked to its history. Yemeni coffee, which is associated with the Read Sea city of Mocha, is known for its high quality and exceptional taste.

"The event carries a lot of hope for the Yemenis, and is a message to all participants in the Geneva II talks to take a break from war and seek a lasting piece," said Yasmine al-Nazeri, a researcher with the German International Development Agency (GIZ) in Yemen.

Before the event, the Small and Micro-enterprises Promotion Agency (SMEPS) conducted a comprehensive study on the coffee sector in Yemen, Nazeri told al-Araby al-Jadeed's Arabic service.

The agency went on to hold a networking event for farmers, traders, agricultural associations and exporters to provide strong support for the commodity.

The agency's intervention focused on the Taluq region of Taiz province and Baraa of Hodeida province. These two regions alone produce two-thirds of Yemen's entire coffee output.

Farmers were trained on modern coffee growing and cultivation techniques to make their products compliant with the standards accepted by international markets.

Nazeri said after this improvement in quality, the farmers were linked to international importers, who are now buying the coffee at three times the previous price.

Yemen's 'coffee break'

"After war erupted in Yemen in March, Yemen stopped importing coffee," Nazeri said.

The agency launched a Yemen Coffee Break initiative, connecting coffee shops in Sanaa with coffee farmers in Taluq and Baraa, creating a local market for their produce.

"As coffee shops' demand for coffee rose, more farmers became interested in growing coffee," Nazeri said.

Thousands of Yemeni families depend on coffee crops for income, and up to one million people work in the coffee sector.

In 2012, the Yemeni government announced a plan to increase production to 50,000 tonnes within five years, but successive conflicts have put the plan on hold.

As a result, many farmers switched to growing qat, a mild stimulant and hallucinogen, for quicker profits.

Up until the 19th century, Yemen had been for centuries the world's primary producer of coffee, which it exported from Mocha.

"Is it not time for all warring parties to stop and have some Yemeni coffee? Perhaps then they would remember that coffee was our proudest product, and our ambassador to all the continents," lamented activist Zain Taqi.