FAO in Somalia

Overcoming a climate crisis and minimizing its contribution to malnutrition in Somalia


The consumption of nutritious diets and adoption of good care practices remain unaffordable for many people in Somalia. The country is at the forefront of the climate crisis with its poorest populations bearing the brunt of the deepening crisis and traditional livelihood systems at risk of irreversible collapse. This is reflected in the devasting drought, which has led over 6.7 million people into acute food insecurity with many at risk of famine.  With support from institutional resource partners, some households are surviving the drought as a result of life saving interventions and investment in climate resilient solutions to their own food production. In this context, FAO, with funding from the European Union, is supporting sustainable and equitable food systems approaches to enhancing food security in the face of a changing climate.

The cost of a nutrient- rich diet in Somalia is approximately 7 USD per day for a family of five, based on the Fill the Nutrient Gap and Cost of the Diet Assessment. This is quite high considering the average household income in the country, though this varies greatly from region to region (an average daily wage is USD 3.3 in Hirshabelle for example, versus USD 5.5 in Puntland). The most affordable option, which is an energy-only diet, consists of staples (maize, sorghum, rice, wheat, and pasta), oil, and sugar and costs about 1.9 USD per household per day, which is significantly lower than the cost of a nutrient rich diet.

Most markets in Somalia do not have an adequate and consistent fruit and vegetable supply. As a result, it is estimated that eight in ten households are not able to meet their nutrient needs. Moreover, many households do not have the knowledge and skills required to adequately take care of their nutrition needs.  Results from a recent nutrition survey indicate that children from ages zero up to 36 months are at a greater risk of suffering from wasting compared to other age groups. In addition, children from female-headed households use adverse irreversible coping strategies and have poor dietary intake. In the other hand, male-headed households that often have multiple sources of income and assets, which leads to poor household coping strategies and poor dietary intake. In this survey, social support was identified as a key factor in preventing malnutrition among women and children. Poor care practices have also been featured in numerous reports as a prime factor.

The frequency and severity of shocks in Somalia have an impact on the rate of malnutrition among women and children. Shocks related to climate change have led to compromised food diversity, quantity, quality in terms of nutritional value, and access primarily for vulnerable households. The country is increasingly affected by cyclical weather events such as drought, floods, and cyclones, resulting in a decline in livestock and crop productivity. If proper steps are not taken in time, along with weak natural disaster risk management and, environmental governance and stewardship, and medium-term investment, the productivity of Somalia will continue to be threatened by a declining rural economy, increasing urbanization and migration and dependency on food imports.

Agrifood sectors sustain the livelihoods of the majority of people in Somalia, which are increasingly under stress, due to climate change, environmental degradation, conflict and displacement. For this reason, making agrifood systems inclusive and sustainable is an urgent priority that will substantially contribute to tackling food insecurity and under-nutrition, poverty, inequality and strengthen the resilience of communities from climate- induced food insecurity. 

Tackling agrifood Systems issues require a holistic approach due to the multidimensional nature of these issues which include, infrastructural deficits, policy deficits, politics, governance and institutional frameworks as well as lack of access to rural finance and market at grassroots level. In this regard, the European Union through its Farm-to-Fork Strategy aims at providing a policy context that can be a reference for the transition to sustainable agrifood systems in the country. In addition, the Somalia Food Systems Dialogues also developed the Somalia Food Systems Pathways that identify context specific opportunities to achieve inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems.

More specifically, the transformation of agrifood systems is vital to address livestock and crop production systems challenges. Any changes to Somalia’s agrifood systems must acknowledge the growing challenges from climate change, while at the same time inducing growth through the development of agricultural value chains and under utilized resources such as fisheries. The fisheries sector is a viable alternative to agriculture and livestock sectors, which presents an opportunity to reduce food insecurity while providing employment opportunities- especially for young people and pastoral dropouts.

In this context, a partnership between FAO, the European Union and CIRAD  in cooperation with national and food systems stakeholders developed agrifood systems assessments and consultations on the analysis of Somalia’s agrifood system, as a first step to transform it. Preliminary findings include the need to:

  • Support in alleviating the widespread food insecurity and malnutrition through better targeting, scaling up, and effective coordination of nutrition-sensitive agriculture, which build on current successes
  • Increase productivity of scarce natural resources and enhance sustainable production of staple food crops, fruits, and vegetables, with crop diversification in both irrigated and rainfed agriculture systems
  • Improve rangeland quality to better support livestock
  • Develop and implement an effective natural disaster risk management policy to reduce the vulnerability to droughts and floods
  • Avert the environmental degradation threatening the sustainability of the crop and livestock production systems through better natural resources governance and stewardship.

Empowering displaced women to participate in food systems

Somalia has made significant progress in some respects such as in growing horticulture industries in urban areas using climate-smart agriculture (greenhouses installation equipped with drip irrigation system) and providing technical support in drafting of agriculture policy and regulations in the seed sector, agro-chemicals (fertilizer and pesticides), food security, and irrigation water management.

Efforts are being made to address challenges in the country, for instance, natural resources are being utilized sustainably to combat malnutrition while creating livelihoods and improving lives. An example of this is a FAO project in Bosasso, Puntland that supports displaced women to learn how to make nutrient- dense pasta fortified with fish flour to generate income and introduce a nutritious food commodity to their local community.

By creating opportunities for women to participate in this activity, their sources of income are diversified, their purchasing power increased, and communities are able to access new sources of nutritious foods.

From kitchen garden to booming business

Another example is a FAO project implemented near Burao in Somaliland that enabled Istaahil Mohamed, to turn her garden into a successful business. Along with 160 other women, Istaahil was offered agricultural training, equipment, and seeds to increase the variety and yield of the crops she produced from her small rainfed farm. With a bit of ingenuity, a lot of hard work, new skills and climate-smart seeds, Istaahil was able to create a small fruit and vegetable farm that employed other local women, and provided greater access to nutritious fruits and vegetables within her local community.

Her success in farming allowed her to think bigger and look at ways to diversify her income. “The joint FAO-WFP project helped us improve our farming skills and becoming more productive. As a result, our small kitchen gardens are now sustaining us beyond what we could have initially thought,” says Istaahil. “I opened a small kiosk with the money I raised from the sale of vegetables.” She later embarked on an even larger entrepreneurial venture: a restaurant. With a farm and two businesses to run,Istaahil hired Abdi, a local young man from the community, to attend to the farm as she operates the two other businesses- the restaurant and kiosk.

With the support of the European Union, FAO is assisting vulnerable households to produce their own nutritious food, increase the availability of nutritious foods in markets, and even increase the purchasing power of the people of Somalia.

Such is the case of the partnership between the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the European Union (EU), and the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) that launched a three-year project titled ‘The Resilient Fisheries and Livestock Value Chain for Inclusive and Sustainable Growth in Somalia (RAAISE).’ The ambitious project started on 20 January 2021 and will continue to build on the same principles of increasing employment and food security for people by sustainably expanding the fisheries and livestock sectors in Somalia. The project aims to create new jobs, increase and diversify livelihoods, foster inclusive economic opportunities, and rehabilitate primary infrastructures within the fisheries and livestock sectors. Activities are planned to take place across Somalia with a focus on corridors in Somaliland, Central North, Shabelle and Juba Rivers.

As Somalia, like much of the rest of the Horn of Africa, is facing a staggering hunger crisis, FAO remains the agency with the furthest reach and the systems in place to scale up lifesaving assistance. In these rural areas that are at risk of famine, FAO works with its well-established network of local partners and remote implementation and monitoring modalities. Innovative transformation of the country’s agrifood systems is vital to making sure that the most vulnerable have access to healthy and nutritious diets and ensuring a food- secure future for all.