Somalia’s Surprisingly Strong Seed Sector

Left: Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation crops research team during planting of crop variety trials in Baidoa in October, 2023. Right: Filsan Seed Company and SSG team members with hybrid maize seed production by Filsan, December, 2023.

The country of Somalia, in Africa’s northeastern region known as the Horn of Africa, has faced numerous challenges over the past several decades, including a protracted internal conflict, frequent periods of drought, and, most recently, extensive flooding due to excessive El Nino rains.  But through it all the people of Somalia have demonstrated a remarkable level of economic and social resilience and innovation that we at Seed Systems Group find inspiring.  This spirit of forward thinking and refusal to be held back by adversity is also on display among Somalia’s vibrant, private seed companies.

Somalia is in majority a country of farmers and pastoralists whose deep knowledge of their livelihoods and agro-ecologies has allowed them to survive and even thrive despite the marginal conditions in which they live.  As a result, according to the FAO, agriculture accounts for an estimated 75% of Somalia’s DGP.  

The two most widely cultivated cereal crops in Somalia are sorghum and maize, while the two most important pulses are cowpea and mung bean.  However, an estimated 25% of Somalia’s farmers are pastoralists whose livestock requires access to quality pasture crops, which are also propagated from seed.  

Thanks to investments in breeding, the genetic potential of food and forage crops in Africa has increased significantly over the past several decades.  This makes a compelling case for giving access to high-yielding seed of these crops to Somalia’s farmers.  With support from the World Bank and Somalia’s Ministry of Finance, SSG is working in close collaboration with Somalia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MoAI), as well as its private seed companies, to make this happen.

Following many years of dependence on relief seed supplied by humanitarian organizations, the supply of seed in Somalia is increasingly being assured by local, private seed companies which now number 12.  These companies are strategically distributed across most of Somalia’s main agricultural zones where they can respond to local farmers’ genuine needs.  Hence, we believe Somalia’s private seed sector is poised to play a critical role in advancing Somalia’s rural economy by allowing farmers and pastoralists to produce surplus harvests of food and forage crops.  To do so, these companies require access to recently bred varieties which combine high yield with resistance to environmental and biotic stress factors.  Therefore, SSG is also providing support to the MoAI’s crops research team, who are now conducting variety trials in three locations.  

In a breakthrough which could prove significant over the coming years, Filsan Seed Company this year produced and sold seed of a hybrid maize variety for the first time in Somalia’s history.  Filsan reports that the company sold 20 tons of seed of this CIMMYT-bred hybrid to farmers and aid agencies, which is a promising start.  The introduction of a touchstone, resource-saving technology like hybrid maize seed is likely to spur other companies, such as CSET or HornAgro, with whom SSG is also partnering, to also introduce ground-breaking seed products, in a familiar pattern of induced innovation.

Without doubt, many challenges await us as we move cautiously toward a viable seed supply system in Somalia, but against all odds, the key elements are coming together.  SSG feels privileged to be playing a key role in this process and looks forward to an impactful collaboration with all our partners.

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