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Strengthening capacities in the livestock sector in Somalia


The livestock sector is the largest contributor to Somali livelihoods, with over 65 percent of the population engaged in some way in the industry. Exports of livestock and their products account for 80 percent of exports in normal years.

The fall of Somalia’s government in 1991 resulted in a weakening of the country’s public administration, causing severe repercussions for the livestock sector.

During this time of instability, Somalia’s institutions suffered, including its training institutions. This caused a decline of the veterinary profession, with few young people capable of taking forward the trade.

To retain the few veterinarians remaining in the country and to substitute for the lack of public sector opportunities, the international community supported the creation of Livestock Professionals’ Associations. These associations provided veterinarians with opportunities to receive training and to offer their services privately.

Nonetheless, during this period, the formal processes by which the safety of livestock export could be certified broke down, and Somalia could no longer demonstrate the health of its livestock. As a result, in the year 2000, the Gulf States, led by Saudi Arabia, imposed a ban on livestock imports from Somalia to prevent the spread of Rift Valley Fever. This had severe consequences on the sector, whose annual export value then amounted to $200 million.

Restoring Somalia’s services and institutions

FAO worked with several partners to strengthen Somalia’s veterinary services, rebuild its systems and institutions, and restore international trust in Somalia as a livestock exporter.

Our approach was to engage in a multi-level capacity development strategy, which would concentrate on institutional as well as individual capacity development, in order to create an environment that would, over time, restore Somalia’s credibility as a livestock exporter.

One of the strengths of the programme was that the projects grew incrementally over time, building on partners’ strengths and allowing projects to develop gradually, in line with the opportunities that arose.

IGAD Sheikh Technical Veterinary School (ISTVS)

In 2001, Terra Nuova, in partnership with AU-IBAR, initiated an EU-funded training institute called the Sheikh Technical Veterinary School in Somaliland. (This was later adopted by IGAD and renamed ISTVS as above). In order to secure quality and recognition, the school entered into close partnership with Makerere University, one of Africa’s top universities, who provided academic support and quality assurance.

FAO supported this process by funding short and continued professional training for students in the school.

ISTVS’s aim was to create a forum within which young professionals would qualify as veterinarians. The school’s first training activities began in 2004, with its first set of graduates qualifying in 2007. ISTVS continues to grow, and has already qualified over 130 graduates, with an 85 percent employment rate. Its graduates are recognised throughout the region, and their diplomas are certified by Makerere University’s same accreditation body in Uganda.

ISTVS Capacity Development Highlights

Twinning arrangements

ISTVS entered into a twinning arrangement with the Makerere University. The latter supported ISTVS in developing its courses and curricula, and continues to sit on the board of ISTVS, alongside the University of Nairobi and the University of Mekele (Ethiopia).

Online library

ISTVS has led the way in developing one of Africa’s first online libraries. This is enabled by a high-speed internet facility, and students have consistent access to up-to-date sources of documentation for their research.


Disease control programme

Alongside this, and in collaboration with Somalia’s Livestock Professionals’ Associations, FAO and its partners put in place a disease control programme across Somalia, to ensure that animals were in good health and qualified for export. This included a surveillance programme to control the emergence of Rift Valley Fever, and later, a large-scale vaccination programme to prevent the Peste des Petits Ruminants.

The vaccination programme was initially carried out with the Governments of Somaliland and Puntland. FAO developed the capacities of the livestock ministry, and thanks to rigorous training and ongoing technical support, the ministry successfully led all stages of the programme. Given the success of the programme, this was to be later replicated in other parts of Somalia.

Carrying out the disease control programme in this way ensured that national actors were fully in charge of the programmes. This was key to ensuring the sustainability of the programme.

Restoring Somalia’s livestock export

Over time, Somalia began to restore its credibility as a viable livestock exporter especially in the north of the country. In 2009, with support from the private sector, a number of quarantine stations were established, which carried out the final check of animals, to provide official certification that declared the animals as safe for export. Finally, in 2011, Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on imports from Somalia.

Thanks to this comprehensive capacity development approach, northern Somalia was able to reinstate functioning training systems, effective veterinary operations, and, crucially, a certification programme, in less than a decade.

The creation of the veterinary school strengthened the country’s institutional capacity, whilst simultaneously building individual capacities. The disease control programme, which was successfully led by government ministries, created a strong sense of national ownership, whilst building international trust in Somalia’s institutional capacities. And finally, the quarantine stations, which came about through strong cooperation with the private sector, served to crystallise this trust in Somalia as a safe livestock exporter.

In this way, FAO’s effective capacity development programme contributed to enabling Somalia to progressively restore the integrity of its livestock sector, and the country has seen a steady growth in exports ever since.