The boardroom of World Agroforestry (ICRAF) crackled with excitement as representative after representative of centres of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future and improved natural resources, shared what they could do, or are already doing, in Somalia.
Nine of the 15 CGIAR centres were present at the meeting in Nairobi, while Somalia’s Federal Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation, Honourable Said Hussein Lid, and his Ministry took part via video link.
‘After 30 years of conflict, Somalia is coming back’, said the meeting chair, Mohamed Abdinoor, Chief of Party of the GEEL programme in Somalia. ‘The country was one of the biggest exporters of bananas in the 1990s. Bananas are coming back. Livestock is coming up again, especially camels. But how do you develop fodder production? What are the best species? These are the things we need to talk about’.
Funded by USAID, GEEL aims to boost Somalia’s exports of quality agriculture and fish, increase dairy production, reduce reliance on imports, and increase jobs in a country recovering from years of conflict and recurrent natural disasters.
A background document for the meeting noted that donors with programmes in Somalia — such as USAID’s GEEL, the European Union’s OUTREACH and RESTORE, and the UK Department for International Development’s PIMS — hoped that the CGIAR’s improved technologies and approaches could be brought in and applied to agriculture and natural resource management in the country.
‘A closer partnership could lead to pathways that benefit vulnerable populations,’ said the document. ‘The mechanism may be technical backstopping, formal and informal capacity-building programs, gene-bank conservation, performance trials or support in direct implementation. Climate-smart crops that are low resource — like sesame, sorghum, cowpea, sweet potatoes, cassava and millet — short-season and/or drought-tolerant can enhance livelihoods and promote resilience of smallholders. Combining these with trees that are suited to the different agro-climatic zones enhances productivity and leads to more sustainable agricultural systems’.
Abdinoor was not disappointed by the meeting, which was attended by donors EU, USAID, JICA, UN agency FAO, and CG centres CIFOR, ICRAF, CIAT, CIP, CIMMYT, ICRISAT, IITA, ILRI and IRRI with ICARDA and IFPRI interested and on remote. See below for full centre names.
Satisfied too were Mohamed Muse Adan, the director of crop production and extension at the Federal Government’s Ministry of Agriculture, Mohamed Shirdon, its seed-system expert, and USAID consultant Said Ali. They and other representatives of the Somali government listened closely as the CGIAR experts spoke one by one, what they said honed by decades of work in other fragile dryland environments.
‘What CIP is proposing to bring is Irish and sweet potatoes’, said Regional Director Paul Demo. ‘The beauty of sweet potatoes is that they are adapted to all environments and are climate resilient. We also know that 125 grams of the orange-fleshed sweet potato provides 100% of the required daily allowance of Vitamin A for a child under 5’.
‘Land in Somalia under rice fell from 6000 hectares to 600 hectares today’, said Abdelbagi Ismail, IRRI’s Representative for Eastern and Southern Africa. ‘Yet it is the third most consumed grain, eaten by 80% of the population. We have been talking to the big importers in Somali and asking, “Why don’t you invest in growing rice?” Rice trials show great results’.
‘Crop residues form the basis of diet for many livestock’, said Iain Wright, ILRI’s deputy director-general. ‘The quality of stover is a critical issue. We are looking at biomass digestibility and quantity’.
Wright also said that the institute is breeding dual-purpose sorghum with both rich grains and nutritious leaves and stalks. Its gene bank has the seeds of 19,000 forage species.
Both ILRI and IITA mentioned livestock-crop index insurance and synergies between them as a potentially high impact innovation for Somalia, following initial successes in elsewhere.
ICRISAT’s Eric Manyasa advocated farmer-led seed production, describing a successful project with CARE in 2002 in Lower Shebelle where the two organizations had produced 400 tonnes of seed under irrigation.
‘Some NGOs had been handing out grain not seed’, said the senior cereal breeder.
IITA’s Edward Baars, who had convened the meeting, called for a ‘strategic multiple stress-tolerant crop roadmap’ for Somalia; bananas including tissue culture propagation with a GEEL supported lab of the Somali seed company Filsan; and developing and scaling-up Aflasafe®, an innovation that helps keep maize, sorghum and other agricultural products free from aflatoxins to meet the EU standards for safe consumption and export.
‘The Aflasafe project is already in numerous SSA countries and suitable for Somalia. It could be used by FAO, WFP and farmer organizations’, said the Senior Business Development Officer.
Interest in the room peaked, however, when Jonathan Muriuki and Susan Chomba from World Agroforestry described their work in the Regreening Africa project to restore landscapes in a country that has been devastated by, among other things, the felling of trees for charcoal production and export to Gulf States.
Muriuki said the project used socially-sensitive negotiation methods with communities to ensure that ‘everyone is a winner in the landscape. Our work is to ensure that agroecological principles are followed in Somalia’.
‘Somalia is at a turning point towards progressive development’, said Chomba.
But she issued a caution when she showed a map of vegetation cover in Somalia: ‘Brown means bare. There are no high amounts of vegetation cover on the map. We are trying to reverse land degradation, which is a big problem in Africa but a big, big problem in Somalia’.
This sparked animated discussion.
‘The most damage is in Jubaland’, said Mohamed Muse Adan, referring to Somalia’s most fertile and well-watered region.
‘But also, in Puntland and Somaliland and the south there is overharvesting of frankincense. This kills the tree. Yet this non-timber forest product is a valuable export,’ said the Federal Ministry of Agriculture director with great concern.
The two researchers from World Agroforestry reassured the meeting about the future of the Boswelia trees that produce the prized resin and grow naturally in the Horn of Africa.
‘Where community norms have not broken down, there is care of the tree’, said Muriuki. ‘When farmers are interested, we help them sustain the tree population through farmer-managed natural regeneration and enrichment planting’.
‘How do we as a system do things in the Somali context?’ asked Edward Baars of IITA. ‘How do we start to implement agricultural innovations?’.
ILRI’s Iain Wright requested the Ministry officials to ‘reflect on what they had heard and let us know Somalia’s priorities. Let’s have a general framework of what the CGIAR coming as one whole unit can do.’
The meeting ended with handshakes, warmth and talk of a memorandum of understanding.
CIFOR stands for the Center for International Forestry Research; ICRAF for World Agroforestry; CIAT for International Center for Tropical Agriculture; CIP for International Potato Center; CIMMYT for International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center; ICRISAT for International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics; IITA for International Institute for Tropical Agriculture; ILRI for International Livestock Research Institute; IRRI for International Rice Research Institute; ICARDA for International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas; and IFPRI for International Food Policy Research Institute.
Related blog: Regreening activities kick-off in Somalia
World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is a centre of scientific and development excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Knowledge produced by ICRAF enables governments, development agencies and farmers to utilize the power of trees to make farming and livelihoods more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable at multiple scales. ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.