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Somalia resumes banana production, hopes to grow exports

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somalia banana

The banana industry is making a comeback in Somalia after two decades of war devastated its leading export.

The East African country’s fledgling effort faces significant challenges, including lack of irrigation and storage infrastructure as well as a wait-and-see attitude of potential export partners abroad who are mindful of Somalia’s recent history of violence and instability.

While most of Somalia’s current crop goes to local markets, exports have begun to Middle Eastern countries including the United Arab Emirates.

About 40,000 tons annually

Currently, Somalia has about 4,000 acres in cultivation, producing about 40,000 tons annually, according to FruitSome, a company formed by about 100 growers to market Somali bananas abroad.

The current planting is less than 14 percent of the 30,000 acres that were in cultivated when the industry was at its peak. In 1990, before the war began, Somalia was the largest banana exporter in East Africa. Banana exports accounted for about $96 million and produced Somalia’s leading source of outside income.

“Prior to 1991, Somalia was renowned for its thriving banana industry. However, insecurity, lack of inputs, and poor infrastructure, has over the last two decades led to a devastating decline and eventual collapse of banana exports,” according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which is providing assistance to the Somali banana industry.

Irrigation and production infrastructure destroyed during the war

The military government of Somalia was deposed by rebels in 1991, throwing the country into chaos, especially in the south, where bananas are farmed, and in the capital of Mogadishu. During the fighting, irrigation and production infrastructure was destroyed and banana growers lost access to export markets as pirates operated off the coast of Somalia. Drought and famine exacerbated the hardships in 2011.

An internationally backed central government was installed in 2012 and the nation has slowly become more stable, although insurgents of Al-Shabab, an Al-Qaeda ally, continue to operate in Somalia.

Growers, many of whom fled to refugee camps in neighboring countries, have begun to return to farms they were forced to abandon during the violence.

Lack of refrigerated storage: another challenge

“This place was a bush a year-and-half ago. We cleared the bush and now more than hundred people work here every day,” Omar Osman, a farm manager in Afgoye, said.

“Things are calm. Thank God. Us, Somalis, we have to make use of God’s blessings. This country has everything and now it is possible to make use of the land.”

In addition to clearing brush and replanting, growers must reconstruct irrigation systems destroyed by fighting factions. Lack of refrigerated storage is another challenge.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has provided direct food aid to families in Somalia as well as assistance in restoring and increasing food production, including seed and land preparation services as well as farmer training.

Turkey to help Somalia

The FAO also developed several virus-free banana varieties, and Somali growers chose one, William, that is tolerant to virus attacks and drought. The FAO began making seedlings available to growers in 2012.

Turkey has also undertaken efforts to help Somalia rebuild its agricultural and fisheries sectors.

“If invested well, Somalia’s fisheries and agricultural sectors can feed the entire Africa,” said Galip Yilmac, the Somalia program coordinator with the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA).

Banana exports resumed in 2014 to Middle East markets including the United Arab Emirates. The FAO said Iran and Turkey also expressed interest in Somali banana imports.

But the Somali growers also face skepticism from some quarters. Dole, for example, invested in Somalia in the past. But a representative of the company said “right now it seems difficult to develop any agriculture program in Somalia because of the local situation.”

Somali’s bananas sold in local markets

For now, most of Somali’s bananas are sold in local markets, and livestock has replaced bananas as the country’s leading export. Other exports are fish, charcoal and scrap metal. Export partners are the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Oman.

Somalia has a population of 10.8 million. Its 2013 GDP was $1.4 billion, according to the United Nations.

Italian colonists introduced bananas to the fertile Shabelle and Juba river valleys of southern Somalia in the 1920s. The industry grew steadily and it peaked in the 1960s. Somali bananas are known for their sweet taste and creamy texture.

Rebuilding Somalia’s banana industry

FruitSome, the company formed by banana growers in 2012, is looking to increase exports, primarily to Europe and the Persian Gulf.

“Close to a hundred farmers are still registered as members of the banana growers association. They have been hoping to be able to export again but drought, civil war, social unrest and a shortage of irrigation infrastructure has so far made it impossible to revive the industry until very recently when the country has begun to re-emerge socially and politically, supported by international partners,” FruitSome said.

Despite the challenges, the FAO was upbeat about prospects for rebuilding Somalia’s banana industry. “With peace slowly returning to southern Somalia, this makes investment in the banana industry a key priority for FAO and its national and international partners,” the UN agency said.

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Somali Pirates Re-Imagine Governance

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Somalian pirate

A captured pirate was brought before Alexander the Great. How dare you pillage the sea? asked Alexander. How dare you pillage the whole world? the pirate replied, and continued: Because I do it with only one ship, I am called a thief, you, doing it with hundreds of ships, are called an emperor.Noam Chomsky

In the early 1990s, commercial foreign fishing vessels and trawlers began working off the Somali shore, invading sovereign waters and exclusive economic zones. Not only did they displace local fishermen, but the illegal over-fishing by these foreign companies severely depleted the fish stock and greatly reduced the long-term health of Somalia’s fisheries through over-exploitation. Greedy international fishing companies with illegal fishing technologies, in an eventual case of reverse irony, “pirated” Somali fishing stocks for illegal profit. Estimates place the foreign fishing poaching at $300 million USD every year, an astronomical sum considering that this occurred for over a decade. Put in scale, if only one year’s worth of the illegal poaching was returned to Somalia, the GDP would rise by over 5%. While poachers were moving in from Europe and Asia, European ships also went to Somali waters to illegally dump toxic industrial waste, another major violation of international law. The UN Environmental Program reports that the nuclear waste dumped on territorial shorelines caused sickness and disease in Somali coastal cities, and killed off the little fish that were left. These disenfranchised fishermen, left only with their boats and nautical expertise in the Gulf of Aden, would soon become the notorious pirates of Somalia.

The pirate economy is a considerable source of employment and income

For Somalis who live in coastal communities, the pirate economy is a considerable source of employment and income: there is a need for crews directly involved in the hijackings, and a local ground crew to guard captured moored ships. Among this exercise are entire administrative, legal, and financial teams, a network of financiers and shareholders, and guards to police the territory in which the pirates reside.

Interviews with former pirates suggest that typical crew men make between $30,000-$75,000 USD per haul, with a $10,000 bonus for the first man to board the ship, as well as bonuses for other displays of initiative. This is an astounding sum considering that the 2012 GDP per capita in Somalia was $128 in current USD. Pirates also face heavy fines for bad behavior, such as non-consensual sex or mistreating other crew members, which carries a $5000 fine and dismissal.

Between 2004 and the first quarter of 2009, Somali piracy rose from 3% to 60% of the global total of piracy attacks, with revenue growth almost quadrupling from 2008 to 2009. Somalia, like other states where piracy occurs, lacks the capacity to patrol its waters; thus Somali pirates have equal advantage to other pirates in terms of access to un-patrolled coastlines, and yet Somali pirates remain disproportionately successful on a global scale.

Attacks reported as far as 600 nautical miles from Mogadishu

And uniquely, these huge gains are not made in Somalia’s territorial waters, but in international territory, with some attacks reported as far as 600 nautical miles from Mogadishu, where the presence of armed guards, unregulated security measures, and international navies act as a powerful and permanent deterrent to pirates from other countries. This unique capacity demonstrates that the assumption that piracy simply exists due to weak statehood in protecting territorial waters does not fully explain the pervasiveness and huge growth experienced by the Somali pirate enterprise.

Somali pirates view themselves as the protectors of their territorial waters, with group names like “National Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia,” arguing that their ransoms are taxes levied in absentia of their defunct government. At the same time, supporting the ransom system and their Robin Hood enterprise is not a sustainable solution either: Somali pirates’ astounding capacity for growth and entrepreneurship suggest that increased revenues will result in better arms and equipment, increasing the likelihood of further attacks.

As ransom demands continue to rise, by the time Somali piracy becomes unaffordable the power of the pirate enterprise will be impossible to contain, let alone eliminate. This burden will be borne by the shareholders, crew members, and global consumers who depend on the 90% of world trade which is now moved by ocean. The problem must not be approached from the outside through militant suppression, or through the path of least resistance in paying a ransom. The situation demands a new and creative approach; using power structures that exist locally in pirate and traditional systems to build a government that meets the needs of both the local and international community from the ground-up.

Not a realistic solution for Somalis

Somali people do not identify themselves through a sense of nationhood, but a sense of kin, an indigenous six-thousand-year-old framework of social organization that was forged by the harsh terrain and nomadic lifestyle demanded by the barren Horn of Africa. As kinship emerged as the most effective form of social ordering in this environment, the clan acted as the largest unit of political organization, and legal and political institutions sprang from this system. The 400-year-old history of peaceful cohabitation among these clan polities demonstrates the efficacy of this form of governance. The centrally bureaucratic and non-personal structure of the state system is the polar opposite of the political realities and imagination of self in Somalia. The model of the nation-state, and forcing these clans together though imported institutions will never be realistic solution for Somalis.

Is self-governance possible?

The presence of pirates and other autonomous regions in Somalia signifies that there has been a shift in the modern political conception of authority and sovereignty: why is local authority less legitimate than authority granted by the international community?

Though mainstream political discourse assumes that self-governance could never facilitate order between members of different social groups, the relative stability piracy offers provides support for cooperative relationships between clans. Despite ubiquitous potential for conflict, pirates rarely fight, steal, or deceive each other. In Somalia, cooperation has always been essential for survival- especially today.

The pirate’s appropriation of the clan-system of leadership demonstrates that to some degree, state-building is possible in Somalia as long as people work with the way authority is recognized in the Somali imagination. Somalia’s history of fourteen failed foreign interventions demonstrates that traditional Western state structures are imperfect and do not comply with indigenous customs and institutions. However, the continued attempts to establish a centralized polity demonstrates that central governance is the type of entity the West is most comfortable dealing with.

Somalia isnt a state

Current political thinking assumes that Somalia is a failed state; therefore the logic infers that at one point Somalia was a state, which it never was- in reality, “Somalia” as a nation exists purely as fantasy and is perhaps one of the greatest untruths ever sold.

And if piracy is due to failed statehood, then the automatic conclusion is that the solution to piracy is statehood. This logical framework is at the heart of foreign policy towards Somalia and characterizes the nature of every intervention that has occurred. However, UN satellite maps of pirate activity indicate no clear relationship between political stability in post-state Somalia and the emergence of piracy. The presence of pirates in Somalia demonstrates that the failure does not lie in the condition of a failed state, but instead the imagination of failed statehood itself.

These repeated representations of the ‘failed state’ work to legitimize the concept, despite the inherent limitations and flawed assumptions that obscure its utility. And at the heart of this is Western universalism, as the construction of the failed state dichotomy finds its foundation on the West’s fixed standard of what they perceive to be a successful state: democratic, centralized, and transparent. It is at its core an imposition of political ideologies put forth through the humanitarian pretensions of the failed state rhetoric. Until this is understood, the international community’s disregard that alternative models of governance can succeed will continue to impede our larger goals of world peace and stability.

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