Building nutrition resilience in a crisis context in Somalia

By Etienne Peterschmitt, FAO Representative in Somalia

Along with partners, FAO is bringing lifesaving emergency assistance to drought-affected rural communities in Somalia. The provision of cash and livelihood support targets hard-to-reach and marginalized rural families, helping to prevent massive displacement and its related aggravating risks, while also facilitating a faster recovery when the crisis ends. © FAO


Limited access to nutritious food has been a perennial problem for many in Somalia, and the country faces great challenges in sustaining improved nutrition for the most vulnerable. Increasingly frequent climate change related droughts and floods, locust infestations, the global COVID19 pandemic and persistent conflict have all resulted in Somalia having some of the highest rates of acute malnutrition and worst levels of micronutrient deficiencies in the world. In 2023, just under half of all children in Somalia (1.8 million children) are expected to be acutely malnourished, including close to half a million children who are likely to be severely malnourished. The cost of a nutritious diet is around USD 7 for a family of five, an inaccessible expense in a country where 69 percent of the population live on less than USD 2 per day. The high costs also reveal the impacts of rising and fluctuating global prices of commodities and high energy costs and inefficient local agrifood systems that all inhibit access to a nutritious diet.

Much of the humanitarian action for tackling malnutrition in Somalia has historically focused on treatment of cases. However, equal effort needs to be directed towards preventative nutrition with an aim of building the nutrition resilience of communities. ‘Nutrition resilience’ provides an opportunity of effecting sustainable, positive nutrition outcomes at the individual, community and country level in the face of shocks and stresses. This approach has been adopted by FAO in Somalia and is championed in our Global Action Plan on Child Wasting, in line with our mandate for ‘Better Nutrition’, ensuring sustainable and inclusive food security and nutrition for all.

The FAO Somalia nutrition strategy as mainstreamed across all interventions within the Country Programming Framework (2022-2025) is multi-pronged, addressing diversification of production and consumption of nutritious foods, social behaviour communication/training and food fortification to address micronutrients deficiency. In these interventions we’re working with women-led households as an entry point for overall improvement of household food security and nutrition. One example of FAO’s nutrition resilience at work in Somalia is the use of transitional cash transfers to break the recurrent cycle of vulnerable households falling back into acute food insecurity after emergency assistance programs. This is achieved by layering cash support with village group savings and loans, livelihood climate smart and nutrition dense inputs and nutrition training towards resilience building. Another example is a partnership with the World Food Programme on school meals to which we supported schools by providing fruits and vegetable seeds to ensure diversified access to these in their school meals. And in coastal communities we’re strengthening the fish value chain to improve local access to nutrient dense foods.

Istahil Muhumed Hashi and her children harvesting fruits and vegetables from their fields in Ceel-humo village near Burao, Somalia © FAO

A visit to an outpatient centre in a displacement camp will tell you how far Somalia has to go to address the structural problems that perpetuate malnutrition. But I was encouraged by a recently launched FAO pilot project in Galmudug in central Somalia targeting vulnerable women at these centres for an intervention to improve their nutrition resilience through micro-gardens. Funded by the French Government, the pilot organized 800 primary caregivers into mother-to-mother support groups of 10 to 15 women, which are provided with inputs to start a micro-garden using locally available materials. The micro-garden is not only manageable but also highly productive compared to normal kitchen gardens as they have a high concentration of nutrients, minimal evaporation and efficiency of space. A diversity of nutrient rich crops is grown on different layers of locally available soil, fertilized with goat manure.

The approach promotes sustained recovery from malnutrition, prevention of relapse and protects nutrition resilience within drought-affected households, including displaced families. The benefits of this kind of intervention can be felt both during and after the project thanks to the incorporation of nutrition education combined with food-based approaches which all aim to prevent the (re)occurrence of malnutrition.

In this context, micro-gardens also make financial sense. They provide a cost-effective way to prevent the need for longer-term treatment of relapse cases which account for an estimated 15 percent of the acute malnutrition cases. The cost savings are even more apparent as a preventative nutrition approach for the whole family, with the cost per person is around USD 35 per year, compared with the average cost of USD 264 per child required for curative nutrition interventions to recover from acute malnutrition.

Under a livelihood development program funded by FAO, several groups of IDP women have learned to process, dry, market and sell locally sourced fish © FAO

The micro-garden concept is now expanding as a tool for extension services at the community level. A kitchen gardening resource manual is being developed by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation to support the adoption of the approach that is both appropriate to the Somali context and empowers women to participate in strengthening nutrition and food security at the household level.

Ultimately, building nutrition resilience in Somalia requires a multi-sectoral collaboration at different levels, which involves strengthening food systems, improving access to healthcare, diversifying diets, and building social safety nets. By doing so, we can help to prevent malnutrition among the most vulnerable and ensure that individuals and communities are able to enjoy better nutrition and thrive even in the face of adversity.

2. Zero hunger, 3. Good health and well-being