Putting food on the table; the future is good

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The state of food security in Somalia is better than it has ever been. Check the figures. (A lot remains to be done though.)

The situation today

Let’s get this out of the way: Food security in Somalia has improved, is improving, and will continue to improve. The prices of staple foods are stable. Livestock conditions are much, much better than before, but most importantly; over the past six months, there has been a decrease (A small decrease it may have been, but still a decrease.) in the number of children at risk of malnutrition.

For the Southern and Central regions of Somalia, the first two months of the year- January and February- saw crop harvesting take centre stage. A harvest that although was predicted to be lower than average, has already lead to a decline in the prices of some of the cereals and other agricultural products that peaked mid-last year.

Figures tell it all

According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 731,000 people will be at risk of acute food and livelihood crisis and humanitarian crisis come mid-2015. This number, large as it may seem, represents a 29% decrease from the July-December 2014 estimates. This is the direct result of the recent harvests and good outlook projected for the pastoral and agro-pastoral regions of Somalia. These regions received reasonable rainfall and are therefore expected to sustain livestock rearing for quite some time.

Late last year, 41 nutrition surveys were conducted across Somalia by Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia (FSNAU) Aimed at finding out the state of food security in Somalia, the findings more heartwarming than was probably expected. Part of the document read; ‘Since July 2014, the number of acutely malnourished children has declined by 7%; the number of severely malnourished children has declined by 13%.’ And that is not all. The document goes ahead to breakdown the information further. They write in their report; ‘Current overall median Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM, 12.0%) and median Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM, 1.9%) rates are lower, compared to six months ago (14.9% and 2.6%, respectively) as well as one year ago (14.2% and 2.6%, respectively)’.

The reasons

One would want to know how the situation got to where it is in Somalia today with reference to food insecurity. Someone would probably want to ask, what led to the situation as it is today? To understand food (in) security matters in Somalia, one need not look only at climatic and geological history of the country, but also drape a little in the political and conflict history of the country. Before 1991, agriculture and agricultural products played an integral part in the economy of the country. And it has continued to be a pillar in the economic strength of Somalia. In fact, even after the conflict, in 2001, 47% of the exports from Somalia were agricultural products. Along the same lines, it would be worth noting that 69% of all land in Somalia is constantly under pasture, used for camel, goat and cattle rearing.

Back to what could have led to the current food security situation; the first port of call would be the skies- rain. Agriculture needs water, and in Somalia drought stalks the rains and more often than not, the rainfall comes late and when it does, it is short-lived. In other parts of Somalia, the rainfall does come, but when it does, it is climate change corrupted and it falls excessively, leading to floods, something that is as dangerous to crops just as much as drought. Take for instance the case of rural households in middle Juba and middle Shabelle regions. These districts were affected by floods and will be food insecure as they wait for off-season harvesting sometime late March and early April. Drought and floods have continuously made farming in Somalia an unpredictable affair. The fact that irrigation as a form of mitigatory measure is also not well developed does not make matters any better.

Geologically, the nature of the Somalia soil supports only particular types of crops. Bananas, cotton, sesame, sugarcane, a bit of millet and maize among others do relatively well in Somalia. Even then, this has only led to land usage on crop farming that only amounts to 1.73%. Not much.

The leading cause of food insecurity in Somalia however, remains the two decade old conflict. It discouraged investment in agriculture; it interfered with research in agriculture and interfered with agricultural manpower. Those three impairments have largely been the reason for the constant food insecurity. The return of peace in Somalia should correct this with time.

The good news

As at now, milk availability in Somalia is reasonable, pasture and water is available in reasonable quantities, livestock prices has gone down, cereal prices are stable after declining, the prices of imported food products like oil and rice and sugar have remained stable since July or declined. All these point to a food secure progressive future should proper measures be taken to secure the still food insecure Somalis.

The good news is that with return of peace in the country, more investors are flying into the country and one of the sectors that they have their eyes trained on is the agricultural sector. So far, there are agricultural companies that have been set up in the country whose sole aim is to increase food production in Somalia. These companies have partnered with universities, local and international investors and research organizations in order for them to get into agricultural research, value addition and importation and exportation of agricultural products.

How Rwanda and Kenya are handling food security matters

One of the items among the Millennium Development Goals is ‘To eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger’. Achieving this goal is a challenge to most countries in the world. Regionally, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Kenya have continued to step up their efforts towards realizing this dream with reasonable success. Even though there are still cases of hunger and poverty in these three countries, they have over time worked to put in place measures that cushion their citizens from the effects of hunger and poverty.

Rwanda for instance has one of the most mechanized agricultural sectors in the region. Operational efficiency and farm productivity has improved in Rwanda due to a shift from relatively small scale and subsistence oriented farming to large scale market oriented farming. Rwanda has worked towards moving from hoe/ family farming to fully mechanized and commercial farming. The outcome has been outstanding.

The results of this have been; larger areas under farming, increased crop yields, efficiency in use of seeds, fertilizer and time management. And of course, a commercial benefit to the farmers since commercial interest in the agriculture sector has gone up.

In Kenya, self-sufficiency of farmers in at-risk areas has been pursued by the government and agricultural agencies alike. Farmers, livestock herders and fishermen in regions like North Eastern (where droughts are common), in Nyanza (where poor coordination between farmers and traders affect the value and flow of agricultural trade all the time) and in Lake Turkana (where fish catch has been dwindling have for the past five or so years) have been encouraged to engaged in multiple projects aimed at keeping hunger and poverty out of their doors.

Livestock farmers in North Eastern for example are these days being encouraged to take up crop farming as an alternative to livestock rearing. Sugar farmers and coffee farmers have greatly benefited from the formation of farmers unions and trade groups to give them a stronger voice and help manage their affairs with traders as a group rather than as individuals. These steps taken by individual farmers and government policies not only secure the farmers but they also open up space for doing business while at the same time ensuring that hunger is kept at bay.