By NY Staff
“In these days grapes are accessible and affordable: a kilogram does not exceed one and one half dollars. Any citizen, even those with modest incomes, can return to his or her children with grapes in hand.” With these words, Mohamed al-Jaberi, a fruit seller in Taiz Central Market, begins his interview with an Anatolia Agency correspondent. He states, “We need to call on Yemen to encourage the cultivation of grapes and open markets for export. If we don’t, the farmers’ incentives to plant will disappear.”
al-Jaberi continues, “Grape prices in Yemen are so cheap. You don’t see similar prices in any Arabic country because Yemeni lands are rich in grapes, but unfortunately there isn’t a significant potential for export.” He concludes, “Ideally, the Yemeni markets will have grapes throughout the year. When a certain kind of grape finishes a new kind appears for there are numerous grape varieties.”
Grape growing requires cold weather that can be found only in northern areas of Yemen, especially Sana’a province, where the temperature in the winter can drop below freezing. Places such as “Khawlan” and “Sanhan” in Sana’a are considered some of the most fertile areas for grape production.
Once mature, grapes are harvested starting in June; a process that continues until the end of the year. Regarding harvesting and processing, the capital Sana’a is the most established Yemeni city for grapes. According to official statistics, Sana’a alone produces 80% of the country’s grapes, most of which are distributed to domestic markets. Sana’a’s percentage contributes considerably to the 127 million tons of grapes produced last year: a healthy increase from the 107 million tons produced in 2005.
Sana’a governorate alone produces about 40 varieties of grapes. Some of the most famous and popular varieties selling in the markets are “Al-Raezki”, “Al-Ghebre”, “Al-Asmi”, “Hatami”, “Black”, ” Olivary”, “Red”, “Al-Erqe”, ” Al-Goffee”, “Whiteness Normal”, ” Bayad Fshaan”, “al-Husseini”, and “Black Adaary”. The grape’s names often belong to the name of the areas and farms that produce them.
The Al-Raezki grape variety, famous for its lush green color, is the one of the first varieties to be harvested and one of the first to arrive at market. When sold, the Al-Alraezki variety costs nearly three dollars a kilo, but drops in price by half once other varieties come to market.
Arabic and Yemeni agricultural experts agree that “despite the weakness of our grape exports, many consider Yemeni grapes to be the best in the world for different attributes including color, flavor, and variety.”
Despite healthy production numbers for a varied and loved product, not all is sweet in the world of Yemen’s grapes.
Agricultural researchers say that “official concern for domestic grape farmers doesn’t exist and there isn’t any encouragement to promote them outside of Yemen”. They emphasized that “these types of luxurious grapes, if found in a country other than Yemen, would have a strong, positive, and well known reputation”.
The researchers highlighted the fact that the production and marketing of grapes in Yemen faces many problems, the most poignant being: the “absence of aggregate markets in some areas of grape production”; the “underinvestment of product marketing, both locally and externally”; and “a lack of centralized markets equipped for commercial storage.”
The researchers also highlighted the need for investments which would help diversify and strengthen Yemen’s agriculture and food industries. They stressed the importance of modern irrigation networks and an awareness and education that facilitates such networks. When asked why, the researchers stated, “Modern irrigation has proved it’s useful in achieving large harvests and high quality grapes.”
As the end of the grape season looms, many farmers fear they will lack the opportunity to export their harvest. To mitigate this tension, farmers have resorted to traditional ways to dry and preserve their grapes in order to achieve better economic returns.
To address this problem, the agricultural associations in many directorates of Sana’a governorate provide machines for drying grapes in modern ways. This technique has reduces waste and allows dried grapes, known as raisins, to be stored, transported, and distributed to export markets – a clear advantage for farmers.
Raisins, the dehydrated form of grapes, are famous in Yemen for their unique taste. Commanding higher prices than their grape counterparts a kilogram of raisins costs $20, significantly higher than a similarly weighted “grape basket”.
Yemenis enjoy eating raisins all year long, especially the winter months as raisins provide the body with energy to help withstand the cold. Raisins are also the most precious gifts that can be carried from Yemen by travelers heading abroad and are also a major sweet during Eid and other holidays.