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Somalia Rural Subsistence Sector
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    Somalia's rural subsistence sector produced sufficient grain and animal products (mostly milk) to sustain the country's growing population, including its massive refugee population. According to economist Vali Jamal, data on the subsistence sector underestimated the amount of milk and grain produced. The official 1978 estimate of milk production was 451.4 million liters; by using alternate data (for example, statistics on lactating animals from an anthropology study, consumption surveys, and interviews with nomads), Jamal estimated 2.92 billion liters of production, 6.5 times the official estimate. Taking into account only this change in milk production would raise GDP by 68 percent, making Somalia the forty-first rather than the eighth poorest country in the world, with an average annual per capita income of US$406.

    Jamal's data showed a 58 percent increase in grain production between 1972-74 and 1984. Production of sorghum and corn reached a high of an estimated 260,000 tons and 382,000 tons respectively in 1985, before declining in the period 1987-89. Grain imports increased sixfold, however, between the early 1970s and 1985; the increase was largely caused by the refugee influx and the added imports needed to fill the food gap. After 1980 food production increased but imports continued, primarily as a result of food aid. Governments did not cut off food aid although the need for it steadily receded. Despite donor objectives, most of the imports went to urban shops rather than rural refugee camps.

    Often missed by macroeconomic analyses was the vibrant agropastoralist sector of the southern interriverine area. Families mixed pastoralism--the raising of goats and sheep, and sometimes camels--with grain production. The family unit was highly versatile, and the division of labor within it changed depending on the season and the amount of rainfall. During a drought when women were obliged to trek for days in search of water, men tended the household and crops. When water was abundant, women maintained the household, and enabling the men to concentrate on the livestock.

    Trade between the pastoralist and agropastoralist sectors has been greater than standard models of the Somali GNP have assumed. Agropastoralists accumulated small grain surpluses in the 1980s, and bartered this grain to pastoralists in exchange for milk. The agropastoralists received more value from this trade than by selling their grain directly to the government because government prices for grain were lower than the growers' costs. IMF agreements with the government repealed price limits on the sale of grain; the consequences of this agreement for trade between pastoralists and agropastoralists had not been reported as of early 1992.

    One of the great agricultural success stories of privatization caused great embarrassment to the IMF. Qat (also spelled "kat," catha edulis) is a mild stimulant narcotic; many Somalis chew the qat leaf during leisure time. Qat is grown in the Ethiopian highlands and in Kenya and is transported through Somalia. In the late 1960s, farmers near Hargeysa began growing it. During the drought of the 1970s, the qat plants survived and their cultivators made handsome profits. Investment in qat plants soared in the 1980s. Sales of qat enabled farmers to stay ahead of inflation during a time when prices for other crops fell. Many farmers used their profits to rent tractors and to hire day laborers; doing so enabled them to increase food production while continuing to grow qat. The large surplus income going to qat farmers created a free market in land, despite national laws prohibiting land sales. The IMF never mentioned this economic success as part of the positive results of its program. The government wrongly believed that the production of qat was cutting into grain production; the data of political scientist Abdi Ismail Samatar indicates that farmers producing qat grew more grain than those who did not produce qat. The government also believed that qat was harmful because it was making the general population drug-dependent. The Siad Barre regime hence banned qat production, and in 1984 qat fields were destroyed by government teams. Nevertheless, the qat story of the 1980s demonstrated the vibrancy of the Somali economy outside the regulatory regimes of the government and the IMF.

    NOTE: The information regarding Somalia on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Somalia Rural Subsistence Sector information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Somalia Rural Subsistence Sector should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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