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Thousands of famers have abandoned their line of business in Somalia over the past two decades as resource-based conflicts, an unpredictable climate and nonfunctioning state institutions continue to burden agriculture in most parts of the country. Those farmers that remain expressed frustration over continuing with their businesses.
Farmers interviewed by Somalia Report expressed concern over the gloomy future of farming in the southern and northwestern regions of the country where egalitarian land access is fueling the flames of conflict sometimes erupting into large-scale tribal animosity.
“Conflict arising from land and water are the most common reasons why we abandoned farming. Repeated land disputes are widespread among farmers and pastoralists bring death and displacements among us," Noor Ali, a former farmer in Bal’ad district told Somalia Report.
Over the past decades overstretched resources resulted in an escalating dispute among farmers and in some circumstances among livestock herders and farmers. There is a growing resentment against farming in Somalia as many farm owners abandoned their longtime means of livelihoods. In addition taxes imposed on farmers by the al-Shabaab militant group have made farming all but impossible.
Famished farmers say inter-clan land conflicts denies ground for local farmers, destroys livelihoods, reduces the economic space for agricultural policies and decimate markets for local produce.
During the military regime 1.6 percent of Somalia’s land mass was cultivated for farming leaving the rest of the vast arid vegetation as rangelands for pasture. Rain-fed farming in the south and northwestern parts of the country was more pronounced during the pre-colonial times than it is now - when sorghum and maize was mostly grown.
“Farming was practiced in Somalia fairly well alongside the river basins of the Juba and Shabelle rivers- cash crops such as bananas were grown in large quantities, in fact Somalia was known for producing bananas,” said Mohamed Noor Galaal, a former member of president Siad Bare’s military regime which took over large areas of irrigable land in the river valleys in order to control farming proceeds.
Subsistence farming is been practiced particularly in areas along the Shabelle and Juba rivers where some form of irrigation is taking place in isolated farmlands. Irrigable valleys along the two rivers offers some excellent avenue for farming, although with the absence of a functioning government proceeds from farming is from hand to mouth as escalating conflicts have hampered the scale of operation often resulting in damage of potential farming areas.
Disputed International Waters
Farmers in Somalia particularly, those along the banks of Juba and Shabelle rivers, accused the administration of Meles Zenawi of diverting huge amount of water.
“The development of farming in Somalia depends on the waters from the Juba and Shabelle rivers. These two rivers flow from the Ethiopian region and it’s so unfortunate that the Ethiopians are interfering very much with the natural discharge of water thus incapacitating Somali farmers,” said Mohamed Noor Galal, a local farmer.
With the risk of water shortages around the Horn of Africa becoming more and more of an issue, water has become the fuel of certain conflicts along the borders of the two countries. Water wars are becoming inevitable in the near future as the overuse of common water resources by Ethiopian continues unabated.
According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO) the Juba-Shabelle basin, with a total area of 810 427 km2, covers about one-third of Ethiopia, one-third of Kenya and one-third of Somalia. Over 90 percent of the flow originates in the Ethiopian highlands.
The Shabelle River is in part regulated in Ethiopia by the Melka Wakana 153 MW hydroelectric project which was completed in 1988 by the Ethiopian regime under funding from western nations. These massive hydroelectric projects control some huge amount water discharge.