Subsistence and Commercial Activities. In the rapid transition from a subsistence to a cash economy, most families can no longer support themselves exclusively by farming. Yemen, once a chief exporter of Mocha coffee (from the port of the same name) now has a highly inflated economy that is dependent on imports. Yemenis who continue to plow their fields manually or with the aid of oxen do so not only because traditional methods are more efficient on narrow traces, but also because farmers are far too poor to own or even to rent the services of a tractor. Radical changes in the subsistence economy began in the 1970s with the export of male labor to Saudi Arabia. By the mid-1980s, remittances from abroad, including U.S. earnings, amounted to a billion dollars and resulted in a sharp rises in bride-price and the cost of land, food, modern consumer items, and professional services. Yemeni dependence on the oil-producing economies now means that staple grains (such as drought-resistant maize, sorghum, wheat, and barley), livestock (including goats, sheep, cattle, and chickens) and even cash crops (cotton and sesame, for example) cannot compete with high-yield commodities from the industrialized world. Oil was discovered in 1984 by the U.S. Hunt Oil Company. By fulfilling its potential to become a modest oil producer, Yemen would reduce its economic dependence on Saudi Arabia. Presently, the most important cash crop for local consumption is qāt ( Cathe edulis ), the mild leaf stimulant that Yemenis chew for its euphoric effects and which is an essential component of daily social and business gatherings. One measure of increasing affluence is the afford-ability of qāt, especially among town dwellers.
Industrial Arts. Yemenis are applying new skills to old trades or entering new occupations that were formerly reserved only for members of despised groups. Operating a sewing machine is an example of a new skill; women do the sewing at home, or, more often, men do the work in shops. Prior to their exodus from Yemen in the mid-twentieth century, Jews were the silversmiths. Now jewelry trades have been taken up by Yemeni Arabs. Returning migrant laborers apply the metal crafts they learned abroad in the making of steel doors, which are much desired by Yemeni homeowners and shopkeepers. Certain regional crafts and services must compete with imports and modernity: weaving, pottery, and charcoal selling fall into this category. Selling goods in the market was formerly an occupation considered too lowly for individuals of tribal status, but now shopkeeping offers men one of the few opportunities to invest their foreign earnings. On the other hand, greater spending on meat consumption and the resultant increase in the demand for butchers has not meant an elevation in the social status of butchers despite their upgraded economic position.
Division of Labor. Various tasks in the cultivation of crops are divided according to sex. Men, women, and children share responsibility for the care of livestock. Women gather firewood and water; in some regions, they now receive assistance from the men, who have acquired Japanese trucks. The family's livelihood may also depend on women selling homemade goods and produce in the marketplace.
Land Tenure. Farmers either own their plots, which tend to be small, or they work as shareholders. No stigma is attached to nonlandowners unless one is a member of a group that, in the past, was not permitted to buy land.