How Violent Conflicts Erode Agro-food systems: The Somalia experience

By Marie-Therese Nanlong

Jos – Somalia means many things to many people; some link her to extremism, adverse climate and economic conditions, starvation, poverty and, a weak government. The phobia may be real but a closer look reveals a blessed country with resilient people, a rich culture, nice cuisines, and untapped natural resources yearning to be exploited.

With an estimated population of about 17.1 million (in 2021), numerous natural resources, including uranium, iron ore, tin, gypsum, bauxite, copper, salt, natural gas, feldspar, gold, kaolin, limestone, silica sand, tantalum and others, Somalia’s, GDP per capita, is still one of the lowest in the world.

In 2019, this country with the longest coastline on Africa’s mainland had the lowest Human Development Index in the world, and in the same year, 69% of Somalia’s population was living below the poverty line. In 2020, Somalia was placed the second highest in the Fragile States Index. The 2022 World Food Programme’s Global Report on Food Crises, noted that conflict/insecurity was the main driver of acute food insecurity in Somalia.

Like other African countries, agriculture (crop, fishery and animal farming) is the most important sector of Somalia, it accounts for almost 70% of the economy, a viable tool to place the country on the path of prosperity; but agro-food systems which is a combination of activities that collectively develop and deliver material inputs to the farming sector have been eroded due to the violent conflicts and harsh weather conditions.

Citizens recount experiences, and proffer solutions:

Citizens have had to contend with situations which have impacted negatively on food production and food security.

An ex-farmer, Adan from an anonymous location said, “Many situations are disturbing our lives, as a young child, I had seen the Al-Shabaab and small-time criminals put pressure on our lives. Security crackdowns have not helped much, we are still being taxed by the militants, and the climate conditions are ruining our trade.

“I was earlier engaged in sesame seeds farming but I always get low yield so I joined the livestock business but there were challenges too. The weather is affecting man and animals. I now work in a processing company like the people in my category, we left farming because of the difficulties. If insecurity and the harsh weather permit us, we will prefer to continue farming because it helps us and the country.”

An Independent Researcher, Shuaib Hussein, said, “Ongoing conflict, environmental degradation, and climate change are major obstacles that need to be addressed to ensure sustainable food systems. Urgent action is required to improve food production, storage, and distribution in the country.

“The challenges of food shortage, violent conflicts, famine, drought, and malnutrition have had a significant impact on the economy of Somalia. These challenges have resulted in low levels of food production, leading to an increased dependency on humanitarian assistance and food imports.”

He added, “The environmental degradation and negative effects of climate change have compromised the food systems, further contributing to low productivity. Insecurity has taken a toll on the economic prosperity of Somalia by exacerbating displacement and livelihood inequities, with an estimated 2.6 million people in the country being displaced.

“This has hindered economic growth and development by limiting opportunities for investment, trade, and employment. Furthermore, insecurity has created an unstable business environment that discourages foreign investment, limiting opportunities for trade and employment.”

Citizen Yasin noted, “The security and climate threats in Somalia have put a huge burden on citizens, crops are failing, humans and livestock are dying due to insecurity and hunger, but we have very smart people in Somalia. If we concentrate on national unity and, bring down the violence; we can revamp the economy.

“We have a large land area; we are good in livestock trade; we have the seaports with potential in sea-borne trades. An organized society would encourage investors to partner with us so that Somalia can become a thriving society again.”

Also, Jibril Yusuf from Bonkai stated, “We received some training from an organization some time ago, we formed cooperative groups to do our job, but insecurity and lack of access to water are affecting us, we walk long distances to search for water. This is very dangerous for people and animals. If insecurity can be stopped and we get dams like other communities, our businesses will thrive and our lives will be a bit better.”

The issues:

A November 2022 information from the ICRC disclosed that conflict had intensified in the country amid an unrelenting drought. “The number of mass casualty incidents related to the armed conflict increased by 30 % as recorded by four major hospitals supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). 57 conflict-related mass casualty incidents had been registered between January and October 2022 compared to 43 during the same period in 2021…

“So far this year the four hospitals, Madina and Keysaney in Mogadishu, Bay Regional Hospital in Baidoa, and Kismayo General Hospital, have treated 2,113 patients with conflict-related injuries between January and October 2022, 197 more than during the same months in 2021…

“Three decades of armed conflict, plus climate change, plus rising fuel prices is a crushing burden for Somalis… On the one hand, we are all talking about drought the conditions of the livestock, the farmers, and lack of access to water; but the other element is conflicts violence, uncertainty, and communities destabilized…

“People have to flee their homes, so when we hear today about displacements caused by drought – that is one big and important element, but we also have seen and still keep seeing displacement caused by armed conflict…”

The report quoted Abdallah Togola of the ICRC as saying, “Three decades of conflict have weakened the country’s institutions and left some 2.9 million people internally displaced. Competition over scarce natural resources can also increase tensions leading to violence.

“Somalia is a perfect case of [the] disastrous consequences of the combination between climate change and conflict. And how climate change and conflict are working together to worsen an already disastrous humanitarian situation.”

Two months ago, Juerg Eglin, Head of the ICRC delegation in Somalia stated, “Several weeks of continuous violence left more than 150 people dead and over 600 wounded, while thousands find themselves in difficult conditions after they fled their homes. People in Las Anod urgently need humanitarian assistance, and we are acting as quickly as possible to bring it to them…”

The AU intervention:

Being a member State, the AU has not left out Somalia in its discussions, before now, there was the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM that supported the fight against al-Shabaab for about 15 years. When the operation ended, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia, ATMIS, a peacekeeping force on the same mandate came on board to support the Somali government until their forces took full responsibility for the country’s security at the end of 2024.

The gesture with over 19,000 personnel is to support Somalia to subdue the al-Shabab extremists because the AU believes national security can engender food security.

The AU Commission Chairperson, H.E. Moussa Mahamad reiterated, “AMISOM achieved significant gains over the past 15 years in support of the emergence of a capable Somali National Army, a professional Somali Police Force and Federal institutions… the African Union’s continued commitment to support the sisterly nation of Somalia is in its pursuit to restore lasting peace, security, and stability.”

The AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security. H.E. Amb. Bankole Adeoye, who has been canvassing support for the ATMIS force said ATMIS’s stabilization and state-building objectives fully align with the Somalia Transition Plan, adding that “the current Somali government is launching a full-scale offensive against al-Shabab instead of responding to al-Shabab attacks and there is a need to encourage that offensive onslaught for peace, stability and socio-economic development.”

He further indicated that “… Through ATMIS, the African Union will also realign its mission components and deployments across Somalia to better prepare the Somali Security Forces to take over security responsibilities of the country by 31 December 2024, as guided by the Somalia Transition Plan. This will be done by prioritizing force generation, mobilization and integration as well as enhanced operational competence, and logistical support of ATMIS and the Somali Security Forces.”

The AU recently held a symposium to, among other things, foster dialogue among critical actors on promoting and protecting human rights as a catalyst for realizing the right to food and food security in Africa as well as raise awareness of African Parliamentarians’ role in realizing food security in Africa.

Solutions:

Hussein quoted earlier maintained, “Investment in education and infrastructure is necessary to support long-term solutions to food insecurity in Somalia. Despite the challenges, there is hope for Somalia to overcome these obstacles and ensure food security for its people with the help of sustained efforts and cooperation between the government, international organizations, and communities.

“Insecurity has also led to widespread displacement, with an estimated 2.6 million people in the country being displaced and facing serious risks of marginalization, forced eviction, and exclusion. The majority of these displaced populations live in informal settlements in urban and peri-urban areas.

“These factors have hindered economic growth and development in Somalia, and addressing them will require a comprehensive approach that goes beyond security measures alone. It will require addressing the root causes of conflict through political dialogue, economic development, and social inclusion, and implementing durable solutions to displacement and territorial and socioeconomic inequalities.”

Yasin stressed, “The many conflicts, criminality, ecological concerns, and leadership gaps have negatively impacted us; whatever happened could be reversed if there is sincerity among all interests.”

End.

This article was developed with support by the African Union through the African Union Agenda 2063 Pitch Zone Awards, a partnership with the African Women in Media.

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How Violent Conflicts Erode Agro-food systems: The Somalia experience

| Agriculture |
About The Author
- Friday Bako is Certified National Accountant (CNA), Blogger, Social Media Influencer/Strategist, Youth Activist and Advocate for good governance.