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In Somalia, Hunger Isn’t All About the Rains

FILE - Somalis are seen leaving the Somali capital Mogadishu, due to hunger, for a refugee camp.

FILE - Somalis are seen leaving the Somali capital Mogadishu, due to hunger, for a refugee camp.

Somalia is the only country to have suffered two famines in recent history. Its farming and livestock industries are strong but political turmoil and ongoing violence leave populations vulnerable to food insecurity.

In some ways, Kassim Abdikadir is lucky. He works on farms around Afgooye, near Mogadishu, and earns money he can use at the local market. And when he goes to that market, there is food in the stalls.

But in Somalia, as in many food-insecure countries, the story is never quite that simple.

The price of food in the market is so expensive, says Abdikadir, that he cannot even afford to buy grains to feed his children.

Somalia’s last famine, in 2011, killed an estimated 250,000 people and the United Nations calculates that about three million are still in need of some form of food aid.

Somalia is certainly an arid country, and the rains do sometimes fail. But recently the rains have been normal, and the land is capable of growing crops. In some areas food production is even up, enough that the United Nations is considering buying grain from Somali farmers.

Logistics, access problems

So why is Somalia so chronically food-insecure? World Food Program in Somalia head Laurent Bukera says one reason is simple logistics.

“We have productive regions where some sort of harvest can take place. But the movement [from] some of the areas where there is food to other areas where there is no food is cut off by logistical access constraints. We still have a lot in Somalia of supply roads which are cut off,” says Bukera.

Somalia has endured more than 20 years of chaos and violence, and more recently, militants from al-Shabab have blocked major supply ways. Several years of military operations by the national army and African Union forces have reopened some but not all of these critical routes.

Bukera explains that this continues to impact the production of food, because when a country is unstable, farmers are not always able to work.

“Oftentimes [they] have to flee leaving behind all their belongings, leaving behind their animals, cows, goats which can give them milk, but also leaving behind everything they have planted,” says Bukera.

With more than a million people in Somalia internally displaced, they simply do not have access to their land, he adds, and at the moment Somalia only grows about half the food it needs.

Shortages in towns, cities

The result is a shortage of food in towns and cities, where even those with a little income cannot always afford skyrocketing food prices, says Ed Pomfret of Oxfam’s Somalia program.

“In certain cities in Somalia we have seen food prices go up four times when there’s been a conflict happening around it. Even if the market is working, the conflict causes displacement and it does cause difficulties in terms of food supply into the markets,” says Pomfret.

This is not to say that climatic factors do not play a role as well, he adds, as erratic rainfall and encroaching desertification make life more and more difficult for farmers and herders.

But Somalia’s food situation is complex, says Pomfret, and any solution must be multi-faceted.

“Tackling the climate change agenda, making sure that we put in place climate change adaptation measures, and also creating a more peaceful Somalia are all factors that will help reduce the levels of food insecurity,” says Pomfret.

Only if all these factors are addressed, he adds, will Somalia stand a chance of being able to feed itself.