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Farm Export: Readiness for Agricultural Transformation in Somalia

Somalia has a rich history in the agricultural export market. Cotton became the first crop to be exported showing good results in 1929, but their value declined after the collapse of the world market in 1937. Between1927 and 1930, banana production in the country increased massively with national plantations increasing 17 times when Italy issued laws imposing taxes on all banana exports except for Somalia further facilitating the development of the Somali agricultural sector. It however proved to be difficult to compete in markets outside of Italy. Another important crop was sugarcane which in 1950, saw the country’s sugar production increased to 4,000 tons, meeting 80% of the domestic demand, while in 1957 it increased to 11,000 tons. These massive figures ensured that the country never imported sugar over the course of that period but was not enough for the export market venture.

In recent years, post-civil war, Somalia has started exporting farm produce such as sesame, lemon and bananas with its main target markets being Turkey, Pakistan, and India. The country possesses enormous potential, not only to feed itself and eliminate hunger and food insecurity within its borders, but also to be a major player in the regional and global food markets.

Poor water and transport infrastructure, persistent insecurity, weak regulatory and enabling institutions [Financial institutions], fiscal insecurity, skills mismatch and severe environmental degradation of the country’s rangelands and forested areas compounded by acute vulnerability to extreme weather events and Climate Change have proven to be key challenges further buffeting the potential and prospects in the sector.

Possible Solutions

The sector remains highly prospective with opportunities for joint venture for foreign investors seeking local counterparts remaining untapped. Availability of a well-established export market for agricultural products, a highly underinvested sector, availability of affordable labor and massive agricultural land among other investor-friendly factors places the country at a competitive advantage as an agricultural investment destination.

With the sector prospects in mind, there is need to target sector-wide tailored solutions and strategies to turn this potential into desirable outputs towards livelihood and economic development and growth.

Developing tailored strategies: In the short to medium term, the recovery of agricultural production depends on improved and better national security, stronger public, private and community institutions, and the rehabilitation of dilapidated flood control, irrigation, and transport infrastructure. In the longer term, the sector’s growth potential can be achieved by developing and implementing a comprehensive sector development strategy, supported by effective institutions and interventions that harness the dynamism of its private sector. Stronger institutions, management, extension services, and infrastructure are critical to supporting private investment in production and markets [local and export]. In addition, well-articulated natural resource management, increased crop production, postharvest long-term storage technologies and private sector-led modernization of the sector is needed to make Somali agriculture outputs competitive for the international markets.

Focusing on value over volume: The transformation of Somalia’s agricultural industries and position in the international trade and export markets is highly dependent on meeting demand for quality products for both local and international markets. Enhancing the capacities of local farmers, uptake of new and improved technologies [crop science, machines and agricultural equipment and appliances] and investment in infrastructure are key to advancing the production of high value crops. Such efforts will see the responsiveness to market-driven opportunities by farmers with a focus on profitability for the farmer, including an extended attention to sustainability, quality, storage, and processing.

Changing farming practices: Change in agricultural farming systems, methods and practices requires multiple parallel advancements. In view of the underlying systemic challenges, adverse impacts of climate change and the need to keep up to the global changes in agricultural production, the sector need to respond to the urgent need to transition from the traditional farming practices [characterised by over-dependency on rain-fed agriculture] to the modern-day conservation and technology/science based/guided agriculture. The future of agricultural depends on decreasing environmental risks and improving the quality of productive management by adjusting decisions-making with the changing environment.

Increasing public–private partnership: Improvements in the agricultural sector will require smart investments and coordination amongst all stakeholders; including both state and non-state actors. Critical emphasis should be laid upon the concerted efforts towards the attraction of capital investment into the agricultural sector to create new agribusinesses and expand existing ones, while introducing advanced skills and technologies to improve efficiency in the sector through the creation of an enabling environment to do export market business in agricultural produce. Greater financial and technical support is needed to match private sector efforts and take advantage of trade opportunities; a phenomenon only possible when the public and private sector collaboratively work together. Therein lays the opportunity to invest and realize the Somalia’s potential in agricultural production, processing, and marketing [Export markets].