The Horn of Africa is no stranger to adversity, but this past year has been particularly tough. Capping off a decade-long drought, Somalia also experienced the protracted COVID-19 pandemic, flash floods, and swarms of desert locusts that decimated crops. All this came on the heels of decades of civil war. Similarly, in neighboring Ethiopia, prolonged periods of drought—exacerbated by disease outbreaks—have led to large-scale loss of livelihood assets and displacement in recent years.
And yet, my last six years working in Somalia implementing the USAID Growth, Enterprise, Employment and Livelihoods (GEEL) project, and earlier experience helping manage market systems resilience projects in Ethiopia, have shown me that despite a backdrop of continued instability and the increasing impacts of climate change, countries in the Horn of Africa continue to find new strengths and opportunities.
How do they do it? And what do the shifting challenges in the Horn of Africa mean for these countries as they build resilience to the shocks that threaten to upend systems that have already withstood so much?
The economic impact of Somalia’s vulnerability to environmental shocks
Somalia is ranked among the countries most vulnerable to climate change. That’s a scary fact considering that about three-fifths of Somalia’s economy is based on agriculture, specifically livestock.
In 2017, drought led to the loss of 60 percent of herds in some areas. The next year, drought conditions led to a 50 percent reduction in cereal production. In 2020, World Bank experts said the triple crisis of COVID-19, locust infestation, and floods caused the economy to contract by 1.5 percent, and that Somalia’s vulnerability to shocks such as climate-related disasters is jeopardizing the country’s recovery from fragility. The cumulative impacts of a climate change, instability, and poverty have already put nearly six million people in danger of severe food shortages.
If this level of need is already something humanitarian assistance simply can’t address, how will these sectors fare when faced with the increased impact of climate change?
We have to think bigger: We have to think of resilience as more than something to stave off hunger, destitution, and despair. We need to see resilience to climate change as a win-win outcome for businesses and communities to pursue together.
Here’s an example.
When I started working on USAID’s GEEL program, the concept was straightforward: support the private sector to build robust and inclusive economic growth opportunities to increase incomes, boost employment, drive progress, build resilience and long-term food security, and disincentivize violent extremism.
Our team sought to work not merely with but through the Somali private sector, collaborating to create economic self-reliance alongside partner businesses and entrepreneurs, including in the Bay and Bakool Region—one of the most drought-prone areas in Somalia.
In a unique and effective arrangement, GEEL tethered its co-investments to contributions by partner businesses to improve their business viability and improve the productivity and profitability of their businesses while providing much-needed services to poorer and vulnerable households and communities.
Businesses built water dams to irrigate fodder fields, installed solar panels to power irrigation systems, and facilitated farmer-business agreements like camel leases. We partnered with private sector agri-input sectors to introduce new and improved seeds with features including drought tolerance, early maturation, pest and disease tolerance, and high yields.
We also trained farmers on methods to improve food production. The net results were a 162.5 percent increase in sorghum yields, meaning higher incomes for farmers and enhanced food security.
Over time, the success of these partnerships was evident, with businesses leveraging over $33.5 million in private capital investments and creating more than 23,000 jobs.
While this is just a drop in the glass in the overall context of Somalia, it proved a key concept: Focusing on private sector-led market systems development confirmed that Somalia’s private sector has and must continue to play a key role in strengthening the resilience capacities of individual farmers and communities.