The autonomous region of Somaliland in north-western Somalia, is a long way from being an independent state. But while the country’s politicians wait for a seat at the United Nations, the region has become a modest economic superpower in one commodity – goats.
The country’s wealth is livestock, with 90 per cent of export earnings coming from cattle, sheep, and the all-important goat. Last year, Somaliland exported over three million goats, according to the Ministry of National Planning and Development. Almost as an afterthought it shipped around 250,000 cattle as well.
Demand in the Middle East, especially during the Hajj, stimulates production by ensuring a ready market for goats, according to Nadhem Mtimet, an agricultural economist at the International Livestock Research Institute. ‘On the supply side, the climatic conditions in Somalia leave producers with few possible alternative activities apart from livestock keeping,’ he says. There is a down side. ‘The negative implications could be in terms of the dependency of the Somaliland economy on livestock production and exports.’
Trade bans could also severely damage the Somaliland economy. During the 1990s and 2000s, Saudi Arabia refused to buy goats from Somaliland due to a Rift Valley Fever outbreak.
There’s also an environmental aspect to be mindful of. ‘Overgrazing leading to land [and] environmental degradation could also be considered another negative externality of sheep and goat production,’ adds Mtimet.
He also cites severe drought as another risk factor that can cause losses of livestock. ‘Climate change and overgrazing have negative impacts on the availability of feed, which in turn threatens sheep and goat survival.’
This article was published in the August 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine