USDA: Somalia - Severe drought reduces grain production and increases food shortages

Somalia’s corn and sorghum harvest in January 2002 is forecast to be below average due to a long-term drought that extends throughout the arid and semi-arid regions of eastern Africa, greatly affecting grazing lands and water supplies of pastoralists living in southeastern Ethiopia, northeastern Kenya, Djibouti, and southwestern Somalia. The spatial extent of the drought, for the most part, does not extend into the highland agricultural areas in Kenya and Ethiopia, but the drought has profoundly affected the crop areas in southern Somalia. The drought in southern Somalia is also compounded by continued civil strife in most areas of the country.

Figure 1. Seasonal Rainfall (October 1-December 31, 2001) in Southern Somalia

Somalia is now bracing for the harsh Jilaal dry season (from January-March), after receiving below-average rainfall during both rainy seasons (April-June and October-December) in 2001. Drought conditions are not expected to improve anytime soon as the short Deyr rainy season (October-December) is over and people are waiting for the start of the main Gu rains in late March 2002.

Somalia currently faces emergency conditions. Many households and pastoralists are vulnerable to food shortages. The most recent USAID/OFDA report estimates that 800,000 people will face severe food insecurity as the result of two below-average harvests in 2001. The food shortage in Somalia is severe as the past two crop failures will probably lower Somalia’s 2001/02 crop production to the lowest levels since the 1991-93 civil war.

Funds to pay for imports are scarce. The dire food situation in Somalia is compounded by Saudi Arabia's ban on the import of livestock from the Horn of Africa due to Rift Valley fever, as well as the freezing assets and closing of Somalia’s largest remittance company, Al-Barakat, following the events in New York on September 11. Remittance is the money transferred to Somalia by relatives living aboard, which is estimated to be over $500 million per year. Destitution among urban and pastoral groups, combined with ongoing conflict in many areas, has led to internally displaced migrations towards major towns as well as refugee migrations to Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. Increased conflicts over limited pasture and water resources are expected because the rangeland areas are parched from the 2001 drought.

In addition, the 2001 drought has severely affected the agricultural sector in Somalia. After a satisfactory Gu (April-June) and Deyr (October-December) harvest in 2000, both the Gu and Deyr rains failed in 2001, leading once more to poor crop production and deteriorating livestock conditions. Seasonal rainfall data from April 1-August 20 and October 1- December 31, 2001 indicate that both the Gu and Deyr rains failed within the important rainfed sorghum areas located in Bay, Gedo, and Bakool regions.

Most agricultural production is in southern Somalia, where the Juba and Shebelle rivers are located. The rainfed crop areas and irrigated regions are located between and along the Juba and Shebelle rivers, respectively. The Gu rain season is from April to June. These rains typically account for 75 percent of Somalia’s annual cereals production. The Deyr rains are usually less reliable than the Gu rains due to shorter duration and uneven seasonal distribution.

For more information, contact Curt Reynolds with the Production Estimates and Crop Assessment Division at (202) 690-0134 or e-mail