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The Horn of Africa States Food Security in the region – A New Perspective

By Dr. Suleiman Walhad
January 23rd, 2023

It is the year 2023 and it is only eighteen days old, and they already started talking about drought and famines in the Horn of Africa States. In the House of Lords, UK Parliament, an in-focus report discusses projections of famine in the Horn of Africa for the year 2023. The report highlights that the region is experiencing the longest drought in 40 years and that some 36.4 million will be affected. Some good people would no doubt collect funds for the region, but those funds to be promised or paid for the region would never reach the region. Probably 10% to 15% per cent may reach the region, in which case, why do these good people have to pay funds to a region, which never receives it.

Despite the climate change, the droughts and the conflicts reported on the region almost on a daily basis, in the region, the population of the region is a resilient lot. They survived these harsh regimes over millennia and will continue to survive the current droughts. The population is still increasing, and food is always available on the table or mats on the floor. Attempts are made regularly to entice people away from producing their own food and plastic camps are built across the region to contain people where food from outside or even cash is distributed so that people become dependent of these handouts.

The message on droughts and hunger in the Horn of Africa States is the most common media feature of all the news on the region. It is colored from time to time by explosions in Mogadishu or the fight against terror of different shades.  What is not reported on the Horn of Africa is that it enjoys a growing population of some 160 million people who live off their lands and animals and we present hereunder a picture that may, perhaps, introduce a different perspective such as opportunities for investment, which would create employment and food production that would not only help the region but those other regions which traditionally depended on it, for food as well.

  1. The Livestock

The Horn of Africa has a very large livestock population, and the livestock industry of the region generates above US$ 5.0 billion of business a year. It is not reported in the world of statistics because it is not recorded. A significant portion of the population depend on livestock for their livelihoods. This industry is sometimes used by the Gulf States of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as a political tool to pressure the Horn of Africa States region for their political goals. This has been a recurrent problem for the region much like the recurrent famines and droughts over the past three decades and more. It would, perhaps, be an opportune moment in history for the Horn of Africa States region to find other markets for their meat, which is organic and of the best quality, anywhere, without hormones or other genetically engineered products. Intrepid investors and even traditoinal investors could market these products in other parts of the world where meat is expensive and unaffordable for most people. The region must take note that the world is in great demand for organic meat both red and white and the Horn of Africa States can provide such a product and should market it properly to the global markets instead of the traditional Gulf markets. Once properly launched into other markets, the need and demand for Horn of Africa States meat products would rise.

The huge animal population of the region promises for its pastoral population and its citizenry, in general, a great potential and value-added. The Horn of Africa States region of the future would need to develop the livestock industry and all related activities in more scientific and professional ways such as animal welfare, veterinaries, fattening projects, ranches and so on. The world population is constantly increasing and the middle-income groups of this increasing population, which are in the region of some 3 billion, will always eat meat. The advantage of the Horn of Africa States region is that it has the land and the livestock to provide meat for that population in different countries. It is not necessary to limit region’s livestock markets to the Gulf countries. The livestock industry is not only important for meat production but for a number of related industries that is said to be worth in the billions. They include among others, milk production, leather industries, bones and other animal parts such as natural fertilizers, and others.

The livestock population of the region includes large populations of cattle, camels, sheep and goats, horses, donkeys, and mules. Of interest here is the milk industry, for example, and its related sub-industries and the animals that produce milk are the camels, the cattle, sheep, and goats.

There are an estimated 41 million sheep representing 27.3% of Africa’s total sheep population, 35 million goats representing 13.4% of Africa’s total goat population, 9.0 million camels representing 52.9% of Africa’s total camel population and 53 million cattle representing 19.3% of Africa’s cattle population. This represents a large milk producing animal population. A unique feature of the Horn of Africa States livestock is that they are absolutely indigenous. Cattle, sheep, goats, and camels are all indigenous breeds. They are small and hardy but have high milk potential and they are adapted to the harsh environment of the region as are their owners, the Horn African.

Adult female sheep and goats weigh about 30 – 40 kg and can produce 10 liters, milked twice a day. The camel, cattle, sheep and goats are mostly used for milk and meat throughout the year. In a professional industrial set up, they could produce millions of liters of milk both for local consumption and for export. At present milk production is for owner family consumption, with small quantities for the local markets. If large ranches are created for 1 million sheep and goat milk production, the potential milk production and hence addition to the Gross National Product would be large and would amount to some US$ 1.28 billion per year. Similarly, A cattle population of I million, if professionally managed through an industrialized process, could produce some US$ 7.48 billion worth of milk production per year and a Camel population of 1 million would similarly produce US$ 2.56 billion worth of milk per year. Thus, the total milk production of the region would be worth some US$ 11.32 billion for a 3 million combination of sheep and goats, cattle and camels annually and more.  The larger the animal population dedicated for milk production, the larger would be the business volume generated. This would represent a large and substantial revenue for a region that is suffering today from poverty and living on handouts. The meat production would similarly produce a significant contribution to the economy.

  1. Agribusiness

Agribusiness was once thought to be the way out of poverty for the region. However, the way the region was doing agribusiness in the past was good for survival, where a farmer would produce, teff, corn and millet, wheat, barley and vegetables for one’s consumption and take any balance to the market for the urbanized population to buy and consume. The region’s commercial agribusiness, include banana plantations, coffee, and tea leaves, all cash crops designed to feed other people beyond the region. Lately a large flower farming industry also sprang from the region, with similar targets of the banana and coffee and other cash crops. Mangoes and sesame seeds and grapes are others. The region’s urban population is growing and their need for Agri products is growing and would also grow in the future as more and more leave rural areas to settle in villages or towns.

The region has the potential to increase its agricultural production through the creation of an enabling agribusiness Department under an Agricultural Organization specifically designed to develop agriculture and marketing policies, thereof. The region’s growing population with its domino effect on food security and urbanization necessitates a refocus on agricultural development policies and economic growth strategies. Value-addition within the region of certain crops can offset the drain, which expensive imports have on an economy that continues to struggle as a result of almost four decades of civil strives and civil conflicts.

The agricultural policies should include managing well the labour-intensive jobs that agribusiness is usually associated with. The creation of many jobs along the value chain would lift many of the rural poor out of the poverty and the misery they live in. Although it is a challenge transforming a traditional way of life and people, where people are generally resistant to change anyway, it is still pertinent that such agricultural policies include ways of marketing the produce of agriculture to the growing urban populations, as well as, for export. We note that the private sector, once properly motivated will generate and produce better results than the command economies that was the case in the past throughout the region.

The country needs to create market-oriented agribusinesses targeting its growing and affluent urban consumers who demand a diverse range of products of a high-quality standard. We must recall that a large diaspora population will continue to drift back into the region and attracting them to invest would be a good policy. The local economy is recovering as witnessed by the construction boom and the proliferation of stores selling high end products in major cities across the region. This is a feature to be noted. A similarly good agricultural production of high standard would be a way to market the region further as the Horn African diaspora will bring along non-Horn African investors and/or tourists and friends, who would return home with a good impression and potential for further investors/investments.

Value-added products targeting niche markets that take advantage of expensive high demand products would be needed in the future. When undertaking a value-added business, it is crucial that one does a thorough study on the demand-driven market needs and gaps in the sector. The Horn of Africa region is a virgin region and Agri production will certainly grow to play its rightful role in the economic growth of the region.

One must note, in this regard, that the arable land of the region is some 25 million hectares of which only a small percentage is actually exploited for crop production. A total utilization of all the arable land and perhaps even expanding it through the latest technologies, would be a big contributor to the economies of the region.

  1. Fishing

The regions owns a vast sea territory, and it should, therefore, always talk about its lands and seas. On the Red Sea, it owns some 1,070 of coast and on the Gulf of Aden, it enjoys some 1500 km of coast and on the Indian Ocean, a coastline of some 2,130 km and altogether some 4,700 km. That is a vast territory and rich in many ways. This coastline excludes the many islands of the region. It is vast, and other than being exploited by fishing pirates from Iran, Pakistan, India, China, South Korea, and Spain over the past four decades, it should still be virgin and untouched.

Protecting the sea and ocean have been neglected and forgotten over the last forty odd years and more, while the Horn Africans were busy politicking and fighting among themselves.  “Due to various external and internal factors, not many studies were conducted in the regionès seas and ocean to exclusively understand the fishing industry’s potential. However, from the studies that have been conducted, the results were very encouraging. For example, from November 1983 to October 1984, a study conducted by two Romanian factory ships, F/V Glabucet (88m) and F/V Bahlui (102m), discovered a potential of recovering 2.38tonnes of small pelagic fish per square kilometre off the northeast coast, primarily between Ras Asir and Ras Hafun,” according to an article in the East Africa Journal on August 2nd, 2015, by Yaseen Grimen and entitled “Fisheries for All?” on Somali fisheries.

The region and more particularly Somalia, at one time, in the eighties of the last century turned to the development of the fishing industry and, in fact, created a ministerial post for it, indicating how important the industry was for the development of the country. The government of the time also stopped the slaughter of animals one day per week and dedicated that day for the consumption of fish. This was to orient the people to take advantage of their vast coast and develop a viable fishing industry by creating consumers for it.

Although, foreign companies using corrupt Horn Africans currently exploit the seas of the region, the governments should not forget their roles as the saviours of the region’s seas and develop the fishing industry through encouraging the involvement of the private sector. In this respect, there will be need to devise new policies that are market oriented and that would give employment opportunities to a large number of the population, and especially those who live on the coasts.

We must recall that region enjoys:

  1. The longest coastline of Africa
  2. An abundant marine life
  3. The coastline is currently and resourcefully underexploited

The coastal people of the region, despite the rich environment around them exploit these resources ineffectively. Many obstacles face them. Lack of resources in the form of capital and equipment are some of the main obstacles. Lack of awareness itself of the resource right at their front door is another major obstacle while safety is not guaranteed due to pirates as well as safety from rogue militias with regards to land facilities for processing and storing fish. Corruption of leaders with regards to not prioritising the interest of the region’s people has been another major feature for many years.

Local fishing produces some 40K to 50K tonnes per year while illegal fishing by international companies is reported to be taking over 250K tonnes per year. At an average price per ton of US$ 2500, this amounts to a wobbly US$ 737.5 million business at this artisanal and illegitimate production. A formal organized fishing industry would produce not less than 1,240,000 metric tonnes of all types of fish in the three coasts per year and thus the region could earn about US$ 3.1 trillion not including the related businesses of trawlers and boat building, equipment, storage, transportation, and the paraphernalia of business related to the fishing industry, and this would continue to rise, for the Horn Africa seas still remain unexploited and would remain to be so, for some considerable time to come. It would truly be an industry that would contribute to the economy of the region.

The region and more particularly the Somali state barely started the exploitation of the fishing industry and the seas in the 1980s and then collapsed a decade later while a full exploitation was yet to be achieved. It is reported that Somalia in the 1980’s created fishing cooperatives and legislation to regulate and develop the sector, as well as to manage its fleet of five fishing trawlers operating in Kismayo and its other ports. The region has access to some 400 types of fish in its coasts on the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean and the future of the fishing industry is promising for the region. It needs stability, forward-looking and market-oriented policies, and assistance from the political leadership of the region.

Horn Africans from ancient times were a seafarers and they built boats that enabled them to trade not only among themselves along their coasts but also with other nations in the Indian Ocean belt. They built the first ocean going vessels known as the “Beden” to travel to Egypt, Arabia, Persia, India, South Asia and even China. At present fishing boats used by people in the region would appear to be only wooden outboard motorboats or rowboats and here is where a boatbuilding industry can be recreated. Importing vessels is expensive and seeding a boatbuilding industry would be a better way to serve the region’s fishermen. The boatbuilding industry is labour intensive and would create jobs and hence assist in the employment of the growing young of the region.

Countries like Vietnam, China, the Koreas, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and closer to home, the Gulf countries have all boat building industries and support this industry to enable them to live off the sea. The Horn of Africa States region, with one of the longest coasts in the world, at least the longest in Africa, would need to exploit this opportunity. Boatbuilding would not only serve the fishing industry but also the transport business for both people and cargo. It is unthinkable to note a region with such a long coast, without a shipping and boatbuilding industry! The region can build boatbuilding facilities from the far North in Eritrea to Kismayo in the far South of Somalia. Today the region mostly enjoys a thriving private sector, which can easily adapt to new technologies and new ideas. It just needs a helping hand and guidance in the right direction, and the constituent regional SEED governments should work in this direction. It would be truly a gigantic step in the right direction.

There is, therefore, an urgent need to create a major Agricultural Organization, the Horn of Africa States Africultural Organization (HASAO) with a number of departments dealing with crops and agricultural produce, livestock and fish production and marine life. These departments will work under world standards and develop the relevant products, marketing them across the globe as opposed to limited parties, who feel they have control over the destiny and fate of the Horn of Africa States and its people. And here is where opportunities exist for both the intrepid and traditonal investor.


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