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Food and nutrition security in times of drought is key to achieving peace in the Horn of Africa

By Khalid Saeed, Livestock Sector Coordinator, FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)


Over the past five decades, the Horn of Africa has seen a continuous stream of both natural and man-made shocks. Combined with poor governance of land and other natural resources, as well as long term economic and demographic trends, these shocks alongside conflict have challenged even the most resilient dryland livelihood systems.

Somaliland’s population are recurrently experiencing food insecurity with Sool and Sanaag regions often the worst affected. The persistent food insecurity in Somaliland demonstrates that people and food system’s resilience is generally low. Furthermore, the needs of rural communities have been largely addressed through humanitarian assistance and short-term funding mechanisms.


In a recent survey conducted in Somaliland to find out the relationship between conflict and food insecurity, the majority of the participants, both men and women, mentioned drought as one of the frequent shocks that leads to violence. The survey was conducted under the Food and Nutrition Security Resilience Programme (FNS-REPRO), funded by the Government of the Netherlands and currently implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). FNS-REPRO addresses some of the root causes of this protracted crisis in the easternmost region of Africa. It focuses primarily on improving the fodder value chain in Sool and Sanag regions, so to contribute to more resilient food systems to weather shocks, which can improve food and nutrition security while bringing along localized peace dividends.


Drought as a leading shock
Drought is one of those natural shocks Somaliland faces time and again often leading to the loss of lives and livelihoods. The ever-recurrent drought is one of the reasons why the World Bank has listed Somaliland as one of the most fragile areas in the world.
An estimated 662,000 people across Somaliland are expected to face severe hunger between October and December 2020. An additional 942, 000 people are expected to be food insecure, bringing the total number of people facing acute food insecurity to 1.6 million, according to the Post-Gu 2020 Technical Release issued by FAO’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) and FEWS NET on 30 September.


In this food insecure context, which is dominated by the scarcity of pasture in the grazing fields and food for human consumption, drought often leads pastoralist communities to engage in violent conflict to get access to these scarce resources. Drought forces pastoralists to move to new areas looking for pasture and water for their animals. The arrival of livestock in a new area implies close competition for the already scarce grazing and water resources between the new arrivals and local pastoralists, eventually leading to conflict and eventually damages to property and deaths.

In the aforementioned FNS-REPRO survey mentioned, the majority of the informants indeed stated that the most common cause of conflicts is the arrival of livestock in a new area during drought periods, resulting in 32% of the conflicts reported.
In a region that earns an estimated US$200 million a year from the export of livestock, mainly to Saudi Arabia, an unmitigated drought means a major blow to livestock export, which can lead to food and nutrition insecurity and destabilization of the region. Somaliland’s economic growth depends on livestock production and trade, the backbone of its economy, which accounts for 60 per cent of its GDP as well as employing 70% of the population.


Fodder needs and opportunity
There are many factors that have led to the scarcity of fodder for animals in the region. Drought, overgrazing, rapid degradation of forest cover due to charcoal production, and animal mobility due to breakdown of customary and state institutions are among the most relevant causes. Also, according to the Ministry of Planning and National Development of Somaliland, vague tenure or resource ownership, and illegal land encroachment of former grazing areas contribute to the problem substantially.

These are compelling reasons why pastoralist communities in Somaliland need good grazing practices and a strong fodder value chain to minimize the effects of drought. The fodder value chain is a priority that cuts across humanitarian and development interventions, with numerous missing links in between (particularly its access, availability and use by poor pastoralists).
Fodder represents both a major need and opportunity, considering its scarcity, demand and market potential, and it being a recurrent need in humanitarian response that is difficult, costly and inefficient to import, as experienced during the 2016/17 drought period.

The fodder value chain needs to be strengthened in Sool and Sanaag through consultations with the government, local authorities and communities as a response to the negative impacts of shocks and increased vulnerability of their communities. However, the initiative can be achieved through a disaster risk, conflict resolution, peace-building activities and process lens.

A major area to strengthening the fodder value chain is investing in better management of the rangeland grazing areas for sustainable commercialization of fodder, in particular in Sanaag region that hosts extensive natural rangeland grazing areas within some of the production valleys. The value chain should also involve support to fodder storage and processing infrastructure, as well as capacity development (especially training) on good grazing management practices. Besides improved animal productivity, the strengthened fodder chains will create new decent jobs, increased incomes, while easing conflicts between pastoral communities and increasing overall resilience to natural disasters.


Strengthening food and nutrition security is key
Strengthening food security is key to avoiding drought-related conflicts, according to the main finding of the FNS-REPRO survey. Investing in drought mitigation and systematic planning are key to improving food and nutrition security in the Horn of Africa, as well as to avoid conflicts among pastoralists (the majority of the population), which are caused by the scramble for resources when drought hits. Food-secure pastoralists can minimize their movements to other territories, which would otherwise eventually end up in clashes and conflicts with the other pastoralists.
Somaliland has the potential to turn around all these shocks that have destabilized an already weak economy if the right tools and approaches are used. Good governance and more investment in the production sector will enable the Horn of Africa to gain stability and minimize unnecessary conflicts arising from issues that can be solved.


Hodan moves animals out of the camp to graze near Burao, Somalia on 22nd July 2020.
Along with COVID-19, food security in East Africa is still experiencing multiple threats, including the impact of desert locusts, climate variability and insecurity. The cumulative impact of these stresses has made an already dire situation worse, affecting pastoralists and smallholder farmers. Movement, trade, labour shortages and travel restrictions are severely affecting crop and livestock exports. Imported input and food prices have increased significantly, and impaired access to markets has caused incomes to decline. © FAO / Isak Amin SP5/RI3 – Building Resilience in Africa’s Drylands

By Khalid Saeed, Livestock Sector Coordinator, FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)