COMMERCIAL AGRICULTURE: How Sesame Crop Is Transforming Livelihoods In Somalia.

COMMERCIAL AGRICULTURE: How Sesame Crop Is Transforming Livelihoods In Somalia.

Before the civil war and collapse of the central government, Somalia was renowned for its thriving banana industry. The banana was the largest employer and the country’s leading source of foreign earnings making around $34.5 million a year in 1990, on the eve of the overthrow of Siyad Barre regime (FAO and World Bank, 2018). Nevertheless, due to nearly three decades of civil war, climate change crisis, insecurity and state fragility the production of bananas in the country has declined sharply compared to sesame production and exports which appear to be on the upswing and to have surpassed its peak before the civil war.

The crops ability to grow in harsh conditions such as dry weather and high temperature has allowed it to be grown in many parts of the country using traditional methods and low input. Sesame is an annual herbaceous and woody stem crop grown for its oil-rich seeds. The plant can grow up to 1.5m yielding an average of about 55 capsules each containing 15-20 seeds. The crop is harvested between 75 to 105 days after sowing depending on the variety. Even though sesame leaves and seeds are being eaten as food, the crop also has many uses. Sesame oil is used for many things including pharmaceutical industries in the manufacture of cosmetics such as soap and skin creams, and it is also used in the pyrethrum industry for the manufacturing insecticides and human medicine to manage diarrhoea, asthma, ulcers to mention but a few.

About 80% of the crop production takes place in the Lower and Middle Shabelle and the Middle Juba. Sesame farmers in the country range from 150,000 to 250,000. They are mostly smallholders with an average of farms ranging between 1 to 2.5 hectares and yields of about 0.2 tons per hectare. However, during rainy conditions, the output increases 0.4 tons of yields per hectare in irrigated areas (UNDP and SATG, 2016). The country’s prewar sesame production reached a peak of about 57,000 tons in 1982. However, the sesame production in the country reached 60,000 tons with an estimated value of $300 million in 2014, surpassing its peak production levels of the 1980s, in which 15,000 tones (about a quarter) exported to outside the country making an export revenue of $81.2 million before the production fell back to low as 26,210 tons in 2017 (World Bank and FAO, 2018).

The crop needs a short rainy season (Dayr) and more extended dry season (Jiilaal) for the rainfed system. In contrast, irrigation system water is abundant in riverine areas of between rivers Juba and Shabelle. A farmer needs to buy and set up pipes and water pump to draw water from the river or the borehole if the farmer is using underground water. The crop needs proper management up to harvesting; one tone of sesame seeds goes $1600 at the local market.

Sesame growers in Somalia face several challenges which include but not limited to a lack of improved crop variety, climate issues, land degradation, and insufficient financial inputs. For instance, locals use traditional methods of farming which produce lower yields. Other challenges include; insecurity, irrelevant market information and processing capacity to meet the minimum standards required for the export market. Local institutions which can help to unlock the country’s potential of sesame production by producing and sharing technical knowledge, provide financial services such as credit and access to markets are also underdeveloped or weak. Sesame growers also lack the climate information in terms of weather forecasts, seasonal forecasts and longer-term climate trends to cope with the changing climate.

Sesame value chain in the country is also devastating, which calls for strategic adjustment; all sectors of the chain are underdeveloped compared to other sesame competing countries. To respond to those challenges sesame growers need to get access input services like credit facilities, high-quality machines for oil extracting in order to meet global standards. To overcome those constraints and challenges the country needs to adopt advanced and sustainable crop production practices to increase production per hectare, increase processing capacity and understand global markets, including an understanding of the changing buyer requirement.

Despite those challenges and difficulties, sesame has become Somalia’s number one cash crop in terms of foreign exchange earnings and gave the country a significant role in the global sesame trade. This clearly states that the country has massive potential for sesame, and if an investment is in the crop is focused, the country could be among major producers and suppliers of sesame seed globally.

The sesame growers need to adapt and embrace sustainable crop intensification strategies which include maintaining healthy soil through crop rotation, using well adopted and wider yielding variety and integrated pests and disease management. The country has entered debt relief eras which can open doors for investment and more international aid. However, Somalia should caution against agricultural investments that do not fit adequately to the environmental conditions of the country.

FAO and the World Bank. (2018). Somalia: Rebuilding Resilience and Sustainable Agriculture. Country Economic Memorandum. ISBN 979-92-5-1-130419-8

UNDP and SATG (Somali Agricultural Technical Group). (2016). “Somalia Sector Profile: Sesame”. available on

@ Abdalla Faisal Salad is a masters program candidate of Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development at Ndejje University, Uganda.

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