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Somalia: A Special Report Monitors Food Security Situation

With tractors in short supply, camels make an important contribution to field work in Somalia
FAO/11773/W. Gartung

More than a million people in Somalia are facing "serious food shortages" as a result of poor harvests and rising food prices, according to a Special Report from an FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission. Somalia's most important growing period, the 'Gu' season, which runs between March and June and accounts for some 80 percent of the country's cereal production, is again reported to have produced poor harvests and "outright crop failure" in many areas.

The Special Report forecasts 'Gu' cereal production, principally sorghum and maize, to be 136 000 tonnes. Although this marks an 18 percent increase over the "disastrous" 'Gu' harvest of 1998, it represents only two-thirds of the post-war average (1993-1998). Erratic and below-average rains have contributed to the reduced cereal output, but the report makes it clear that since the collapse of the Somali government in 1991 and the start of the ongoing civil conflict, levels of food production have generally been low.

Damage to infrastructure and lack of inputs as a result of civil strife have contributed to low yields. Spare parts and fuel for tractors are in short supply, and a lack of pesticides has led to a proliferation of pests, notably army worms, stalk borers and quelea birds. The fighting, especially in central and southern Somalia, has hampered commercial food trade and the distribution of food aid.

Based on its findings, the mission concludes that 1.2 to 1.5 million Somalis are at risk of food insecurity and are in need of international assistance especially now that "coping mechanisms are virtually exhausted" after six consecutive poor harvests. The report indicates that rising food prices, a reflection of the limited food supply, are also contributing significantly to food insecurity throughout the country. Sorghum prices had risen between 27 percent in Baardheere to 79 percent in Mogadishu. Similar patterns were noted for maize, except in Baardheere where prices fell by 12 percent. Warring factions have also fueled inflation by increasing the money supply, particularly in Mogadishu.

The report states that the populations most vulnerable to food shortages are small-scale pastoralists and unskilled labourers. A goat's value in sorghum has declined by more than 27 percent and the value of camel milk has fallen between 17 and 54 percent. In 1998, an unskilled worker in Bardheere could expect to buy nearly 17 kg of sorghum with a day's wages, but in mid-1999 the same worker could barely afford 3 kg.

Some rain has fallen since the end of the 'Gu' season. This has sparked active farming in several regions and helped replenish water supplies. Cereal production, particularly maize, and short cycle crops such as cow pea, sesame and vegetables are expected to benefit from this 'off-season' rainfall. Thanks to these rains, livestock is also reported to be in fairly good condition. This is good news for the country's economy, as the livestock sector accounts for approximately 60 percent of Somalia's GDP and 80 percent of its export earnings. Livestock trade has improved slightly since the lifting of Saudi Arabia's ban on Somali livestock, which had been imposed to prevent the spread of Rift Valley Fever. However, the report points out that livestock prices are still relatively depressed and productivity remains low because of a shortage of veterinary drugs and services.

After the 'Gu' season, the next most important growing period in Somalia is the 'Deyr' season, which runs between October and December. A "normal" pre-war Deyr harvest would have been about 95 000 tonnes of cereals. However, given the latest weather forecast from the International Research Institute for Climate Prediction (IRI) of a below-normal rainfall, the Mission projects this year's 'Deyr' cereal production at no more than the post-war average of 70 000 tonnes.

10 September 1999

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