Continuous civil strife since 1988 has seriously disrupted the Somali economy and damaged most of the country's infrastructure. A large proportion of the population has been displaced. The disastrous floods in late 1997 dealt an added blow to the fragile food security situation by causing extensive damage to infrastructure and property and substantial crop and livestock losses. Against this background a team composed of an FAO/GIEWS staff member, an FAO consultant agrometeorologist and an agronomist from the Food Security Assessment Unit in Nairobi (FSAU), visited southern Somalia from 27 to 30 May 1998 to review the findings of the current season assessment carried out by the FSAU team of national agronomists. Two workshops were held in Beletweyne (Hiraan) and Merka (Lower Shebelle), where field visits were undertaken. The review was also facilitated by information obtained from earlier low flying inspections over agricultural areas by the WFP agronomist and the FAO agrometeorologist. The Northwestern regions (Somaliland) were visited in mid-June by the FSAU agronomist and the findings are included in this report.
The early outlook for the 1998 main Gu cereal crop, accounting for some 75-80 percent of annual production in normal years, is unfavourable The area planted to maize and sorghum is estimated to be substantially reduced, reflecting insufficient and irregular rains since the beginning of the season, combined with a number of negative factors associated with last year's floods. These factors varied from region to region but in general include an overlap of the off-season crop harvesting with planting of the Gu season crops; excessive weeds, rodent and pest infestations, destruction of canals and river embankments, loss of pumps, lack of quality seeds, lack of cash for hiring tractors due to loss of employment opportunities and household labour constraints. Insecurity in parts also contributed to the reduction in the area planted.
Despite abundant soil moisture at the beginning of the season, a prolonged dry spell from the second dekad of May through the second dekad of June stressed cereal crops. Subsequent heavy rains in late June, which resulted in localized floods and crop damage, are likely to have been too late for significant improvement in crop conditions. This season's crop yields will also be adversely affected by reliance on lower yielding ratoon sorghum from the previous season's crop.
A reduced 1998 Gu cereal crop will be the fifth successive poor harvest. This, coupled with the disruption of economic and agricultural activities caused by the prolonged civil conflict, is likely to seriously aggravate the already precarious food situation of the majority of the population.
This year, the Gu season started one to two weeks late in most regions of southern Somalia, including important agricultural areas like Lower Shebelle, and one month late in Northwestern regions. Precipitation was generally below average, irregular, and of short duration, virtually ceasing in all areas from the first dekad of May. This resulted in reductions in the area planted or in total failure of crop germination in rainfed areas. By contrast, in agricultural areas along the Juba and Shebelle rivers, high soil moisture following the floods during the Deyr season, from September to January, allowed satisfactory crop establishment. By the end of May, crops were beginning to suffer moisture stress due to the prolonged dry spell, but they were still reported in satisfactory condition in several areas. Satellite images for the first and second dekads of June showed well below normal precipitation in all agricultural areas. Subsequently, however, heavy rains on 24 and 25 June caused extensive flooding in parts of Lower Shebelle (Quorioley, Janale), which damaged standing crops, housing and infrastructure. A detailed assessment of the impact of these rains on the crops is not yet available. However, although these rains may have a positive effect in rainfed areas, it is likely that overall they were too late for significant yield improvement.
Besides the poor rains, plantings were also negatively affected by a number of factors brought about by the floods of late 1997. In general, there was some overlapping of agricultural activities of the off-season and the Gu crop season. After the devastation of the Deyr maize crop by floods, farmers managed to cultivate large areas of recession fields off-season from January to March before the Gu rains. At the time of Gu planting in early April, agricultural areas were partially under off-season crops, causing delays in land preparation and reductions in the area planted.
In irrigated areas along the Shebelle and Juba rivers, decreases in plantings were due to the fact that fields were still flooded or with sand and silt. Even in areas where flood waters had receded, the destruction of river banks - and difficulty in undertaking rehabilitation operations - left crops vulnerable to floods even from slight increases in river levels, thus preventing farmers from cultivation this season. In fact, in parts of Middle and Lower Juba regions floods in the first dekad of May destroyed areas with off-season and Gu crops. Similarly, the destruction of irrigation canals and the loss of pumps caused by floods, contributed to the decline in the area planted. In the Shebelle Valley and in Lower Juba, where heavy soils are predominant, lack of cash for hiring tractors was one of the main factors affecting the level of plantings. The severe damage to banana plantations and the disruption of agricultural trade caused by the floods led to loss of employment opportunities and incomes in these regions.
Another serious constraint on cultivation was the heavy weed growth resulting from the high level of soil moisture. This made land preparation difficult and, because of increased labour requirements, reduced plantings in some areas. Weeds also encouraged rat infestations, which are common after extreme ecological changes. A massive increase in rodent population has been reported in riverine agricultural areas of Lower and Middle Shebelle, but also in Middle Juba region. Rats ate just-planted seeds and/or recently germinated crops, forcing farmers to replant and leading to shortages of seeds and significant decreases in the area planted. Crops just sown also suffered from attacks of abnormally high numbers of insects, mainly crickets but also grasshoppers. Pest infestations have been particularly severe in Bay, Lower Juba and Gedo regions.
In the Northwestern regions (Awdal, W. Galheed, Jogdheer, Sanaag, Soal), the main factors constraining plantings were the poor quality of seeds and farmers' difficulties with funding tillage operations.
Finally, insecurity in parts of Bay (Burhakaba district) and Middle Shebelle (Balada district) resulted in displacements of population and abandonment of agricultural lands.
Sowing of rainfed sorghum is now complete in the South. However, in areas with supplementary irrigation, land has been prepared for planting /replanting of maize in expectation of "Hagai" rains. Therefore, increases in the area planted to maize could still be possible if additional rains are received. In the Northwestern regions, which have a distinct rainfall pattern, the area planted to both sorghum and maize is forecast to increase from 3 500 hectares to 9 000 hectares if financial assistance for tillage operations is provided by international agencies and good rains continue until mid-July.
Livestock play a major role in the economy of the country. For the large majority of the population who are agro-pastoralist or pastoralist, livestock products are an important source of both food and incomes. Following the above normal rains of the last Deyr season, pastures and water supplies for animals are abundant. This has enabled the recovery of livestock numbers following losses due to floods. However, with prolonged dry weather this season, there is concern for animal conditions in the second half of the year. In the important pastoralist Northwestern regions, the dry weather has already resulted in a shortage of fodder.
The current ban on livestock and meat imports from Somalia by Saudi Arabia, one of the main markets for Somalia's exports, has resulted in a drop of some 25-30 percent in the prices of goats since January in the main port of Berbera, severely affecting incomes of the pastoralist population throughout the country. By contrast, markets in Southern Somalia show smaller drops in prices or even stable prices for local-quality goats.
The ban has also resulted in increased pressure on grazing resources with the risk of overgrazing and environmental degradation. In Northwestern regions, nomad populations have moved earlier than anticipated towards the coastal area or inland to Ethiopia in search of better pastures.
As livestock is the largest source of foreign exchange, lower exports are expected to result in the depreciation of the Somali Shilling, which has already started to lose value against the dollar in the Mogadishu market. In the Northwest, the Somaliland Shilling has devaluated 17 percent against the dollar since January.
The tight food supply situation, following a succession of poor crops and reduced food imports in 1997/98 (August/July), has temporarily eased with the 1998 off-season harvest. Production estimates by FSAU indicate an output of the off-season crop at 10 000 tonnes of maize and 5 000 tonnes of sorghum. In addition, production of sesame, an important cash crop in Lower and Middle Shebelle, with the advantage of having a shorter maturing period than maize, was estimated at 3 400 tonnes. The aggregate 1997/98 Deyr and off-season production amounts to 54 000 tonnes of cereals, which is one-third above the drought-reduced Deyr output of 1996/97, but only half the average of pre-civil strife level.
Prices of sorghum and maize declined from their post-flood highs in December/January and stabilzed during April/May at levels generally lower than last year. This reflects the arrival of the off-season crops in southern Somalian markets, a better than expected Deyr sorghum crop, and the significant impact of food aid distributions at local level. On the demand side, the relatively low level of prices reflects the sharply reduced purchasing power of some population groups, which have been impoverished in recent years. The disruption of agricultural and trade activities due to floods, the collapse of the banana industry and Saudi Arabia's recent ban on livestock imports from the country have further eroded incomes. Cereal prices have, however, increased sharply in the pastoralist Northwestern regions, where only one crop is grown.
The food situation in fact varies greatly by region. The situation is better in areas of high Deyr and off-season output. This is the case for Bay and Bakool regions, where production of sorghum was almost double the pre-war average level, and for Middle Juba and Hiraan, where the off-season maize crop compensated for the failure of the Deyr season. In all other regions, production was sharply reduced and the food supply situation is tighter. In Middle Shebelle, Lower Shebelle and Lower Juba, besides severe cereal crop losses, the destruction of an estimated 40 percent of the banana plantations has resulted in the loss of both seasonal work opportunities and banana production, an important component of the diet in these areas.
The agro-pastoral and pastoral populations have increased the consumption of milk and the selling of animals, but food difficulties are being experienced by those without any or with few livestock, mainly in riverine areas. Food shortages are already reported in Hiraan region, Jowhar district in Middle Shebelle, Afgoi district in Lower Shebelle and Bardera district in Gedo. Coping mechanisms include the consumption of wild fruit and leaves, and the collection of firewood for sale. In the Northwestern regions, livestock/cereals terms of trade have sharply deteriorated in the first six months of the year. The decline in livestock prices has been coupled with a sharp increase in maize and sorghum prices, reflecting a shift from consumption of imported rice and wheat, prices of which have increased with the devaluation of the Somaliland Shilling, lower export availabilities from Ethiopia and poor prospects for the next harvest.
With the depletion of food stocks in the next few months and the unfavourable prospects for the Gu harvest, the food supply situation gives cause for serious concern. Moreover, a substantial reduction in food imports is expected from June to September as heavy winds and turbulent sea conditions restrict the operation of small ports, that have substituted for Mogadishu port which has been inoperative since October 1995. In anticipation of a poor Gu harvest, cereal prices have increased sharply in some areas. In the Beletweyne market (Hiraan region), sorghum and maize prices have risen by one-third in three weeks, from early to late May. Higher grain prices combined with a decline in livestock prices will also adversely affect the food security of the pastoral populations. Overall, the lower exports of livestock and bananas are expected to exert further pressure on the Somali Shilling in the near future. In turn, this could lead to an increase in prices of imported wheat and rice.
Increased food assistance is likely to be needed until the next Deyr harvest in December 1998 if a further deterioration in the food situation is to be avoided. External assistance is also urgently required for rehabilitation activities, including the rebuilding of flood-damaged roads, repairing of river banks, dykes, irrigation canals, and de-silting of wells.
|This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO and WFP Secretariats with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact the undersigned for further information if required.|
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