ICRISAT is collaborating with the Somali Agricultural Technical Group (SATG) to provide technical support for sorghum production in Somalia. The expertise provided includes identification of sorghum varieties suitable for Somalia, provision of breeder seed of the identified varieties and training of SATG staff and their partners in sorghum seed production.
Since 2016, the SATG has been working closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in developing the capacity of cooperatives to improve food production by strengthening the regional staple seeds production sector. Out of 57 local agro cooperatives trained on bookkeeping, business management, application of good agriculture practices, and use of crop protection practices, 15 best performing cooperatives were selected for production of quality sorghum seed.
In response to SATG’s request for cooperation in April 2021, breeder seed of the identified varieties (Gadam el Hamam, IESV 92043 DL and CR:35:5) was delivered to SATG in early May 2021. Also, last month a training session was conducted virtually for capacity building in sorghum production.
The training, which was led by ICRISAT’s Sorghum Breeders Drs Eric Manyasa and MacDonald Jumbo, was virtually held during 29–30 June 2021. It was aimed at ensuring that the knowledge built, and measures applied by the lead farmers in seed production not only contribute to increased and improved sorghum seeds production but is passed to other farmers of the targeted cooperatives. The multiplier effect will largely contribute to increased capacity of sorghum production among the most vulnerable farmers through access of quality seed of sorghum. In addition, the application of good agronomic practices and safe storage will increase productivity and minimize post-harvest loses respectively. The cooperatives’ capacities are expected to strengthen to enable them to market their seed to other needy sorghum production areas in Somalia. The training was attended by participants drawn from SATG, lead farmers from Cooperative Societies, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, and Universities. It covered the following topics:
- Sorghum improvement in Eastern and Southern Africa
- Sorghum value chain and opportunities in the sorghum value chain
- Sorghum agronomy and the application of good agriculture practices
- Sorghum pests and diseases and their management
- Sorghum post-harvest losses and use of good storage system
- Sorghum seed production and quality maintenance
In his opening remarks, Dr Hussein Haji, Executive Director, SATG, intimated that agriculture is an important economic activity in Somalia not only for meeting the food needs of the population, but also for generating income through sale of harvests and agricultural labor opportunities. Among the staple foods grown in Somalia, sorghum is the most important cereal, occupying over 400,000 ha and comprising a significant fraction of Somalia’s domestic cereal production, despite the total production of the crop falling below the levels observed in the 1980s. There has been stagnant production against the rapidly increasing Somali population. The downscale has increased the need for cereal imports and aid to Somalia and has made the country vulnerable to disruptions in international cereal markets and foreign government policies. Since the collapse of the government in 1991, Somalia has been in a near-constant state of food insecurity and suffered two officially declared famines.
With support from the ICRC and others, SATG is dedicated to assisting with the reconstruction of Somalia and its agricultural heritage. Since its establishment in 2001, the group has been working on expanding its network of practitioners and professionals devoted to the building of sustainable agriculture in Somalia. SATG has been able to bring together stakeholders across the globe interested in improving agricultural processes in Somalia. One approach the group is using is tapping into expertise and adapting or facilitating solutions pertinent to the Somali agricultural industry through online training, discussions and documenting of the results and outcomes. Having been part of the Somalia research team before the collapse of the government and thus a member of the early sorghum and millets network coordinated by ICRISAT, Dr Haji underscored the value of ICRISAT in assisting Somalia revive its agricultural research.
Dr Rebbie Harawa, Regional Director, ICRISAT East and Southern Africa (ESA) noted that partnership is central to ICRISAT’s efforts towards overcoming challenges facing smallholder farmers in the semi-arid tropics. This is achieved through public-private partnerships working together from the planning through the execution and evaluation stages of the joint activities.
Dr John Karongo, ICRC Regional Agronomist emphasized the importance of sorghum as a food and fodder crop for the small-scale farmers in Somalia. He further stated that since 2016, ICRC has been in partnership with SATG to provide better support to small-scale farmers through cooperatives. “Linking SATG to ICRISAT was an important step that will significantly contribute to strengthening capacity and improve sorghum seeds production in Somalia. ICRC is open to more collaboration in future with ICRISAT and SATG to better support farmers and improve their production,” he added. The two-day training was a great opportunity for the cooperatives and Ministry of Agriculture to learn new technology.
According to Dr Manyasa, ICRISAT Principal Investigator for the collaboration, the training and other initiatives with the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and other NGOs based in Somalia are part of the activities towards reviving ICRISAT’s collaboration with the NARES in Somalia that was quite vibrant before the security lapse in the country in 1991. Even during the long period of insecurity in Somalia, ICRISAT continued backstopping the few international NGOs that engaged in sorghum seed relief and small-scale testing of improved varieties.
ICRISAT envisions a stronger and more vibrant smallholder farm sector where science is helping to win the war against poverty, farmers progress from subsistence agriculture to market participation, and manage land and water resources for long-term benefit. To realize this, the research institution will continue to work with Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and key partners in Somalia. Discussions are underway to sign an MOU with the government of Somalia to formalize the collaboration.
Reported by Ms Grace Waithira, Communications Assistant, ICRISAT-East and Southern Africa.