Post COVID-19 Somali Food Crises: Implications for Food Insecurity and Possible Mitigation

Reading Time: 6 minutes[mmscovidlive country=”Somalia” title=”Somalia” style=”2″ label_confirmed=”Confirmed” label_deaths=”Deaths” label_recovered=”Recovered”]

The objective of this article is to forewarn of imminent post-COVID-19 food insecurity crises in Somalia and to brace for rocky aftermath, which may affect most of the country. Regardless of how the COVID-19 impacts on the Somali people, the inevitable blockade of the world supply chain systems have already shown its effect on the Somali food markets. The world supply systems are interconnected and thus affect each other. Currently, all the supply routes into and out of Somalia are closed, or semi-closed, which means none of the required consumer goods, including food, health care products, and other household and garment materials can enter into the country. This is not the fault of Somalia, because even if Somalia opens its doors to the rest of the world, the producing countries have closed down their borders and trade routes. Additionally, when the doors are open again, the flowing results may ensue:

  1. There may be a global economic decline which results in a recession;
  2. The dollar, which the Somali economy is pegged on, may lose much of its current value;
  3. Industrial production systems take time to resume;
  4. Even when they resume their local consumption is the priority;
  5. Prices of consumer goods may go up to a point where most of the population cannot buy it;
  6. Xawala remittance disruption may ruin the livelihoods of half of the population;

As a result, when the pressure of the COVID-19 passes by, and the dust settles down, we may wake up into a new reality of food insecurity, which the pandemic has left behind. And if we don’t plan ahead of time, the consequence maybe even severe.

The aftermath of COVID-19 may create the like of a drought, which may blanket the whole country, specifically the most vulnerable sectors of the population and regions. Bear in mind that this is a global problem, but fragile states may be the hardest hit.

The reason is that a corona-weakened population of a fragile country has no endurance for food and medical shortages, especially, the IDPs and the other poor segments of the population. Some states like Galmudug, with limited resources and no seaports of its own, maybe severely affected.

Food Insecurity

Since we do not manufacture 99% of the primary goods we consume, shortages of food supplies and other consumer goods create high demand against low supplies. This usually comes when the product is not available as needed, and the severe the need, the severe the demand, which results in severely higher prices. The underlying reasons are:

  1. Product is not available in the local market;
  2. it’s available but not enough;
  3. it’s available but costly;

In contrast, the problem of food shortages could emanate from the manufacturing nations due to the flowing reasons:

Food and medical supplies are not available in the country because,

  1. Producing countries need them in the first place;
  2. They lost much-needed revenues during the pandemic so they want to sell it expensive to those who can afford it;
  3. Supply roots are blocked because some countries are infected until late 2020;
  4. The dollar which we depend on may be weakened, and so cannot buy much;
  5. Many countries which we buy stuff from, may demand other currencies, which means the low dollar will buy far less;

All these above points result in food insecurity, which disrupts the livelihoods of millions of fragile Somali communities. The inability to buy available commodities is the main factor of food shortages, which is contributed partially by the fluctuations of the dollar value, and product scarcity in the markets.

Contributing Factors

International Economic Rivalry

The emergency of COVID-19 has generated early symptoms of economic predicaments as a prelude for an imminent recession and perhaps stagflation. Initially, the mass quarantines and shutdowns of entire cities, states, and regions have paralyzed the industrial production of the affected countries, and that has translated into a global economic decline.

In salvaging their economy, individual concerned countries poured billions of dollars into the economy, like unemployment benefits, salary subsidies, and tax reliefs for companies. Although the objective is to resuscitate the economy, these same steps reduce the national revenues, and in turn, diminish the value of the currency. While mass job losses are a recipe for a recession, relief income-supplements for the unemployed and bailout of the corporations in the billions of dollars lead to stagflation.

All those events created competition and mistrust among the developed countries, as each country wants to survive through this pandemic and its subsequent economic ordeal. The head of the UK Central Bank, Mark Carney, remarked in 2019 that Britain might abandon the US dollar as a foreign reserve currency. Likewise, Alfredo McCoy (2020) pointed out that the US dollar depreciation inflates food prices and fosters unemployment.

In all, this may lead to an economic and political rivalry of the developed allied nations to compete with each other for survival and significant market shares. And this may lead to a reconfiguration of foreign exchange and reserve currency, whereby other stronger currencies emerge as international exchange currencies instead of the dollar. Many countries, including China, Iran, and Russia, were, for years, eying such an opportunity.

This economic and financial competition for survival directly affects the poor and developing countries that are dependent on their production as customers. As a result, in this post-COVID-19 situation, the economy of many countries in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa may not recover from the upcoming recession and stagflation, and the economies of some of them may even collapse.

China and Russia may easily recover from the post-COVID-19 economic decline due to their sociopolitical culture and economic structure, but that is another issue which we are not going to discuss it here at this point.

Xawaala Remittance Setback

A large number of the Somali population depends on remittance-money in their livelihoods. With the current disruption of the money transfer, banking, and air-transport systems, the Xawala operations become very limited. This means at least half of the population may lose their monthly income, while some may meet other financial restrictions. These financial restrictions contribute to the expected post-COVID-19 food insecurity in the country.

Hajj Seasonal Livestock Exports 

The Hajj pilgrimage of 2020 is very likely not to materialize, and the impact on the Somali livestock traders and thousands of nomads who depend on this once a year trade for the source of revenue is severe. Traders start to buy livestock early on the year and keep managing their health and wellbeing to bring a good income for them and their nomad customers. However, the hopes of these traders and their local suppliers have been dashed by the cancellation of the Hajj. This termination of the Hajj season may cost them their annual income and livelihoods, especially when the coronavirus is devastating their lives.

Recommendations for survival:

It is not easy to ward off such an imminent food crisis within a short period of time. Likewise, it is not wise to give up a fight that you may win or may achieve the honor of fighting for a worthy cause. For this, we propose the following measures to minimize the impact of food insecurity on the population:

  1. Taking advantage of the current Gu’ rains, initiate a campaign of cultivating local foods, such as sorghum, corn, Jowhar-rice, and sesame, among others;
  2. Improve livestock rapid development programs;
  3. Since the Hajj seasonal livestock export has been canceled, find a means which livestock market can be revitalized by buying livestock from traders and nomads (if possible) and re-distribute as livelihood assistance;
  4. Buy grain from the farmers and distribute as food aid;
  5. Engage and encourage seafood consumption;
  6. Encourage riverside communities to river-fishing;
  7. Establish emergency food management programs to avoid hoarding and gouging;
  8. Promote transnational livestock and produce trade;

These steps may minimize the impact of food shortages on the population. On the other hand, it is honorably patriotic to take on a challenge such as this, whether you win or lose. The outcome will be a national endeavor of historical proportion, similar to the 1975 Somali campaign of the drought-refugees resettlement.

Dr. Shariff Osman has PhD from Ohio university and now works at Mogadishu university as Professor of political science and sociology. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. Muqdisho Online does not endorse nor support views, opinions or conclusions drawn in this post and we are not responsible or liable for any content, accuracy or quality within the article or for any damage or loss to be caused by and in connection to it.