What it takes to make Somalia’s main crops climate smart

UNDP Somalia
5 min readMay 5, 2024

By Nabil Youssouf Abdi

Photos: UNDP Somalia/Nabil Youssouf Abdi

Unlike in Asian countries, the people in Somalia have long been relying on sorghum, maize, and sesame as their major stable food grains — for a simple reason that the local climate had been suitable mainly for these three leading crops and not for rice paddy. Among the major crops, sorghum is probably the most climate adaptive and drought tolerant crops in Somalia.

However, in the past few decades, the country, caught in multiple crisis, has witnessed a rapid decline in the production of these three major crops due to worsening climate conditions, particularly drought and desertification.

Official records show that consecutive years of poor rain between 2016 to 2018 led to the loss of over US$310 million in agricultural sector. The historic drought following five consecutive failed rainy seasons in 2022 also led to mass displacement, widespread death of livestock and a devastating food crisis and contributing to about 5.6 million people across the country experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity.

These effects have contributed to the country being a net food importer, estimated at US$1.35 billion in 2020. About 417,496.96 MTs of Sorghum worth US$92.748 million were imported between 2017 and 2021 and in 2018 the demand for maize was estimated 1.2M MTs valued at US$ 396,000 with an annual deficit of about 40 percent filled by imports.

Given this context, UNDP Somalia joined forces with FAO, with the support from the Scaling Up Climate Ambition on Land Use and Agriculture (SCALA) programme funded by the Government of Germany, to carry out a study to get a complete and updated picture of the structure of the sorghum, maize, and sesame value chains, map out the core processes and stakeholders (private, public and others) in Hirshabelle, Southwest and Somaliland, and carry out a market and private sector analysis of the value chains in the context of climate change and investment potential. The intervention is part of SCALA’s Private Sector Engagement Facility, aiming to identify private sector-oriented interventions to engage businesses in implementing climate plans to mobilize resources and develop innovative climate services solutions. The project engaged over 35 stakeholders of the public and private sectors and non-state organizations.

The report (download from UNDP Somalia website), identified existing challenges limiting the exploitation of the full potential in these value chains, including lack of irrigation facilities, poor quality seeds and lack of technology and recent adaptation initiatives taken by the local authorities with support from various partners. Riverine farmers have adapted to using irrigation during the dry season and about 25 percent production through irrigation, while the remaining 75 percent is rain-fed farming. The report shows some farmers have initiated climate smart agriculture practices such as crop diversification and intercropping of cereals with legumes to manage total crop failure, as well as soil and water conservation technologies. A few millers are switching to solar energy even though the initial cost is high.

However, these climate smart initiatives are too small in scale to have any tangible impact at the overall economic, social, and environmental situation of the country. This underscores the need for broader, more systemic changes to make the food value chain climate smart.

This study, therefore, provides specific and crosscutting recommendations categorized under the sections: Enabling Environment, Regulation and Governance, Financing, Training and Innovation, Water Management and Infrastructure, and Logistics, Quality and Compliance.

Seed bank established at the community in Somaliland. Photo: UNDP Somalia/Nabil Youssouf Abdi

Some key recommendations that stand out from this report are:

i) Seek an additional grant to carry out an in-depth assessment of banks and MFIs capacity and their ability to provide relevant financial products to agriculture stakeholders in the value chains including cooperatives and exporters, among others.

ii) Provide training to relevant stakeholders in the financial ecosystem to develop and pilot innovative agricultural products that are responsive to the needs of sesame, sorghum, and maize value chains.

iii) capture data on investments and financial losses in agriculture, especially infrastructure from the effects of climate change. This recommendation is aligned with Somalia’s National Climate Change Policy (2020) that provides the governments strategic directions for climate change, especially adaptation and mitigation.

iv) upgrade post-harvest, processing, and storage facilities to be able to produce quality products and compete effectively in export markets with similar imported products, providing climate-smart investment opportunities and solutions development.

v) train and build capacity of water committees on efficient use of water as a mechanism to support climate adaptation and to manage basic irrigation facilities.

vi) formalize the sesame platform at national level to continuously advocate for an enabling environment for sesame exporters in areas such as tax reduction and energy costs to remain competitive in the export market and raise collective climate concerns.

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This article by Nabil Youssouf Abdi, Project Manager, UNDP Somalia was prepared with input from Farrah Adam, Private Sector Engagement Officer, SCALA and Tarik-ul-Islam Resilience and Climate Change Portfolio Manager a.i, UNDP Somalia. Follow Nabil in Twitter at @nabiilps3

Read more about UNDP Somalia at www.undp.org/somalia



UNDP Somalia

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) works to achieve the eradication of poverty and the reduction of inequalities and exclusion.