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The Role of Foreign NGOs in Somali Agriculture - Is it a Rob or Reward?

by Mohamed H. Bahal
Saturday, January 24, 2015

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It is irrefutable that agriculture is the key sector for the economic development of Somalia. While agriculture is critical for Somalia’s food security, it accounts the livelihood of over 50% of the population both farmers and pastoralists. After decades of conflicts, production of agriculture reached at the lowest ebb.

The responsibilities of reviving agriculture was delegated to foreign NGOs  with the pretext that no Somali institution is capable to handle the job. It  is apparent that the NGO’s roles in stabilizing the fractured economy showed no positive impacts on the economic and social lives of the Somali people. 

NGOs in Somalia, are they for a Rub or Reward?

Prior to civil war, the country for the first time was on the verge of producing sufficient food crops
and horticultural fruits for export. Besides bananas, production of grapefruits by private farmers
entered in the Italian markets in 1990.

The Somali grapefruits had undergone lab test to verify the quality of the fruits in terms of peeling, acidity, sugar content, and aroma. The results were superb.

The first shipment  was marketed at a time when Israel’s grapefruits which dominate 50% of European countries were out of market. One advantage we have over Israel is the fact that we are in the Southern
Hemisphere, and our grapefruits ripen in the months of March/April by which time no Israel’s grapefruits are available in the markets .

Rehabilitation of existing  grapefruit orchards need supply of necessary farm inputs (fertilizers and pesticides) and improved grafted seedlings for new plantation. This is a crop that brings badly needed hard currency.

Studies conducted by FAO in the 60s and 70s showed that the lands between the two rivers, Juba and
Shabelle, had great potentiality for agricultural production. These areas if well developed, can produce sufficient food production not only for Somalia but also for the rest of East African countries.

That goal may seem farfetched in the present time. However, the current Government of Somalia can conduct feasibility study for resettling 5000.00 refugees as a pilot project in the riverine  areas. Following the outcome of the studies, request can be submitted to international donors and World Bank for financing.

Most of developmental projects which are currently underway, foreign NGO has a role to play. Majority of the projects are pre-planned without considering the felt needs of the local people. One glaring example is in Somaliland, where some areas in Gabile and wide areas in Awdal region which were fertile agricultural lands turned gullies because of erosion. These areas could have been saved had the Ministry concerned treated the area as priority number one and minimize the pity projects run by  NGOs. The country is short of essential tools to impark on agricultural development plan. Steps Should be taken to lay down foundation for agricultural research and extension service.

In the absence of improved seeds both for food crops and vegetables, Ethiopian Research Scientists  released over 660 crop varieties of cereals (sorghum and maize), pulses, oil seeds, and Horticulture in their different  research stations. Because of the similarities of the under conditions the seeds were raised. It is unfortunate that foreign NGOs can’t  undertake such measures required for easing the shortage of supply of seeds. Procurement of improved seeds is the responsibility of Ministry of Agriculture.

What is regrettable is the fact that NGOs employ support staff from outside at a time when unemployment of local graduate is soaring with no end in sight. It needs bold decision to restrain
foreign employees and assign qualified counterpart staff the NGOs working in the country. It
Is deplorable to see young graduates sitting in front of tea shops contemplating their  uncertain
future. The local universities can mitigate unemployment if they revise their curriculums  and train
technicians in occupational fields in electricity, plumbing, carpentry, masonry, and nursing.
Such trainings can open gates of employments for the students because of the construction boom
taking place in every city of the country.  

Finally, it is justifiable to evaluate the projects implemented by foreign NGOs and impacts they made
on the fractured economy of the country. It is prudent upon the UNO to sponsor such evaluation in the
light of millions of dollars funneled  in to foreign NGOs  for the development of the country.

Mohamed H. Bahal
[email protected]

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