Yemen, with its wide range of arable climatic zones, has the greatest potential for agricultural development of any nation on the Arabian Peninsula. Agriculture is an important part of the economy (accounting for 17% of GDP in 2001), despite the lack of arable land, scarcity of water, periodic droughts, and difficult terrain. Employment in the agricultural sector accounts for more than 64% of the workforce, but with only 3% of its land area arable, Yemen's potential for agricultural self-sufficiency is very remote. As of 2001, Yemen imported $857.2 million in agricultural products.
Traditionally, Yemen was famous for its coffee, shipped from the port of Al-Mukha, from which the English word mocha derives. The main cash crop is qat, a mild stimulant chewed by many Yemenis on a daily basis, but not exported significantly because it is highly perishable. Industrial farming of fruits and vegetables, using modern irrigation techniques, provides a level of production to nearly satisfy domestic demand. As a high-cost producer, Yemen is not yet able to internationally compete in marketing its produce, especially since such exports are often blocked at the borders.
Agriculture output in 1999 (in 1,000 tons) included sorghum, 321; tomatoes, 248; wheat, 144; grapes, 160; bananas, 88; seed cotton, 25; sesame seed, 18; coffee, 12; and cotton, 8.