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Somalia’s Potential as a Leading Regional Sesame Exporter

By: Ismail Kukay

Sesame was once one of Somalia’s top exports to the global markets. The crop is also one of the most drought-tolerant high-value crops grown in Africa, the industry’s profitability has been seriously harmed by the civil war. The sesame growers in Somalia have lost their competitiveness in international markets and are now using poor seeds with inadequate training.

With the combination of inefficient farming techniques and recurrent droughts has lowered yields which have largely affected domestic supply and exports.

In Somalia, there are excellent potential for exporters and the value-addition of sesame. Sesame is the biggest export crop and an essential component of the diet, particularly used in the confectionery industry. There is an estimated 220,000 sesame growers in the country, farming an area of approximately 10 million hectares, although there is room for expansion in both aspects.

However, Somali producers face multiple challenges, including; low productivity, lack of vital market information, Lack of technical know-how among farmers, and processing capacity to produce high-quality seeds, particularly to the standards necessary in export markets.

All these challenges can and should be addressed by the relevant government institutions at a time when the region is experiencing internal strives, including the war in Ethiopia, that has negatively affected the sesame export volumes from the region.

Due to the continued conflict in northern Ethiopia, over 500,000 hectares of sesame farms, or 70% of Ethiopia’s yearly cultivation for the cash crop, skipped an entire season without being cultivated, because large-scale sesame farmers have fled the conflicts in Tigray and Gondar regions.

An estimated two million quintals of sesame are produced in Ethiopia alone each year, with more than half going directly to export. Particularly, the Humera sesame trades at a premium on the international market.

To meet the demands of the domestic and international markets, there is a need for an incentive package to accord to sesame processing investments to develop, among other products, high-quality oil extractions (Saliid Macsaro), with effective national processing capacity.

Finally, in order to maintain a sustainable production system, the government institutions, including the Ministries of Commerce and Industry and Agriculture, must implement legal and regulatory reforms such as issuing certifications with high-quality control methods and streamlined issuance of import/export permits.

In Somalia, sesame has tremendous potential and offers lucrative investment prospects for both domestic and international markets.

Ismail Kukay is an agricultural extension specialist and can be reached via @IsmailKukay

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