Southern Somalia faces serious food difficulties
Food security
remains precarious in Somalia where despite a recovery in this year's main season cereal harvest, production remained well below pre-civil war levels and actually fell in some areas, says FAO and WFP in a new special report.

The report, based on a visit to the country in August, forecasts that the harvest of this year's Gu crop is likely to be up 48 percent (243 000 tonnes) compared with last year, but 37 percent less than the average of the 1982-88 pre-civil war years. Much of this is due to improved output in the Bay and Northwest regions, which account for half of the country's production.

Devastating floods in southern Somalia have hit crops

But elsewhere, particularly in the southern regions, production has dipped. Severe food difficulties are expected in the Lower Juba Region, after devastating floods and two poor harvests in a row. In April, depleted stocks forced many people to cross the border into neighbouring Kenya. The 15-page report warns that the Gu harvest may only provide enough food in this region for two months.

And getting grain supplies from other regions will be difficult because of insecurity. Moreover, the purchasing power of the local people is extremely low. Severe food deficits are also predicted for the Hiraan and Gedo regions. Although livestock is more important here than the Lower Juba valley, people without animals and assets and those living in towns are particularly vulnerable. In the capital, Mogadishu, where unemployment is high, procuring food could deteriorate if prices rise in the next few months.

The country's overall food security remains precarious with a high dependence on imports. The 1996-97 Der crop is tentatively forecast at 105 000 tonnes, so that total cereal production would be 348 000, an estimated 203 000 tonnes short of expected consumption.

Even if Mogadishu and Kismayo ports remain closed, commercial imports are likely to increase to 160 000 tonnes. The remaining 43 000 tonnes would have to be met by food aid to meet emergency and non-emergency relief. And in this, the report says, there is great scope for food-for-work schemes to help rebuild flood control and irrigation schemes.

There is enormous agricultural potential, but the sector still has a long way to go. Complex irrigation systems on the Shebelle and Juba rivers will take time to rebuild, veterinary services have collapsed and without drugs and vaccines the livestock industry is vulnerable to disease and even epidemic. But above all, says the report, Somalia needs security and stability for investors and farmers.

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