1999 Gu harvest and food security in southern Somalia

The 1999 Gu season is confirmed as yet another poor cropping season in rainfed areas. The overall production is 26% above the disastrous 1998 Gu output. The area harvested was less than that established two months ago. Furthermore, it produced a below average yield per ha which has hit the sorghum producing farmers in particular. These farms suffered severe moisture stress, bird attacks and abandonment due to insecurity in some areas. The agro-pastoral farmers in rainfed areas are further disadvantag ed by water scarcity, inflation, unemployment and insecurity.


The total cereal production figures are worse than those FSAU predicted in June 1999, which were based on the established area (ie: crops were already at knee height). The total harvested area is 274,430 Ha (of which 10,300 Ha were covered by off-season maize in Lower Shabelle, Lower Juba and Hiran regions, to be harvested in September). Total cereal production this Gu stands at 128,883 MT (including the 6,620 MT of off-season maize). The total cereal production is thus 41% and 29% lower than the harve st of 1997 (the latest "normal" Gu) and the post-war (93-98) average, respectively.

The overall production is marginally higher than in the 1998 Gu, this being an exceptionally bad year as a result of the ElNino and the worst year in 5 previous years. The low productivity of this year's Gu crops is highlighted by the fact that the area harvested is 31% higher than that of 1998 but, due to low yields per ha, the output is 26% higher than 1998. The total output is also 23.5% lower than that foreseen at the crop establishment point.

The harvested area being 70% rain-dependent, the failure of the sorghum crop on these farms reduced the contribution of sorghum from 49% of output, as predicted in June, to 26%. In terms of both area coverage and output, both maize and other irrigated cr ops' figures have increased and sorghum and other rainfed crops' figures have decreased compared to the June estimates. Thus, the major contribution of rainfed crops did not materialise this Gu. The loss of irrigated maize was insignificant and in fact, more than made up by the off-season maize production. 74% of total production is attributed to maize, of which approximately 55% was grown in Lower Shabelle.

The harvest this year has been hit by the late onset of the Gu rains, the brievety of these rains (June did not produce as much rainfall as hoped for), with moisture stress and an uneven crop emergence. In addition, the damage by crop pests, and in parti cular birds on sorghum, was significant this year. Armyworms also caused localised crop failures. Increasingly, irrigated maize is the backbone of cereal production in today's southern Somalia, mainly due to recurrent failures of the sorghum crop. Howe ver, insufficient and poor irrigation infrastructure still hamper the full potential of the land in some areas. Many farms in the sorghum belt as well as parts of the Juba valley were also abandoned as a result of the flight from insecurity and militia m ovements.

The 1999 crop failure hits the sorghum belt of Bay, Bakool, Hiran and rainfed parts of Gedo, Middle and Lower Shabelle and Middle and Lower Juba most. The lower sections of the two river valleys benefit from the good Hagai rains on the coastal areas, imp roving water availability and farming opportunities. The agro-pastoral sorghum-growing farmers in rainfed areas will remain food insecure up the harvest of Deyr (December 1999 - January 2000).

The production of cowpeas in the cowpea belt (coastal strip between northern Middle Shabelle and south Mudug), at 120MT, is 93% lower than the output predicted in June.

Food supply is good in the riverine areas as a whole, especially when the production of non-cereal crops are taken into consideration such as sesame, cowpeas, more off-season maize, bananas, vegetables, fruit and fish. The Shabelle regions and in particu lar Lower Shabelle will be the most food secure areas. However, cereal production is most substantial only in the irrigated parts of Lower Shabelle. In addition, the area will benefit from the second cresting of the river. Maize food stocks will be in the hands of the large-scale farmers and traders in Mogadishu, who are also actively buying sorghum grain from production areas.


River levels have recovered after the late rains. Water scarcity has, however, been reported throughout the inland areas of southern Somalia. It is seen as insufficient for both human and livestock consumption. In particular, water catchments are worst but some boreholes and wells are not functioning either. The Gu and Hagai rains have contributed to the improvement of pasture but have not been sufficient for sustainable water availability until the Deyr particularly in the sorghum belt.

Livestock physical conditions are reported to be good on the whole because of the pasture availability. Prices of livestock are still relatively depressed. A cattle marketing crisis, with regards to the Kenyan market, has been experienced, particularly over the period of the closure of the international border.

Insecurity as well as causing displacement of farmers and groups, has disrupted trade routes. Transportation costs have risen and commodity prices increased, in particular all those from Muqdishu. In addition, the devaluation of the Somali Shilling as a result of the imports of the currency, have created an inflationary pressure on market prices of goods and services, sometimes above the devaluation rate (i.e., in real terms). Local cereal prices are high (at this time of harvest, when they are expected to be at their lowest), even causing former banana growers to
switch to maize production.

The purchasing power of most Somalis is not healthy and the terms of trade of, for instance, goat/labour to grain have deteriorated. Household grain stocks, particularly sorghum, are very limited. Furthermore, agricultural job opportunities are few and far between and wages poor with a day's work fetching down to US$ 0.25. Poor households in rainfed areas have limited access to alternative income opportunities and coping mechanisms. Unseasonal po pulation movements towards the riverine areas (e.g., from western Bay to Gedo and Middle Juba) are reported. Security constraints also push specific groups out of southern Somalia towards Mogadishu, central Somalia and Puntland.

The irrigated maize producing farmers of Lower Shabelle will, in general, be the better off of the food economy groups whereas the agro-pastoral sorghum producing farmers of the sorghum belt will suffer from a lack of food stocks, water scarcity, inflatio n and insecurity.

In the Somali context, traditional mechanisms such as the Zakat will contribute, in the short term, to alleviate acute food shortages experienced by the poor. Remittances also represent a major component of the Somali economy that engenders a trickle-dow n effect to the poorest households.

FSAU is managed by WFP/Somalia, funded by EC/Somalia, the Italian Co-operation and WFP/Somalia, and supported by USAID/Somalia and FAO.

FSAU partners are WFP/Somalia, FAO, FEWS/Somalia and SCF/UK. Telephone: (254-2) 622929, 622947 * Fax (254-2) 622698 * Email:<>