Luca Alinovi

on .

(Head of the Office a.i. of the "Food Agricultural Organization of the United Nations in Somalia" -

Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world: its Gross Domestic Product at Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) is $5.9bn (USA’s GDP at PP is $15,290 bn) and its GDP per capita is $284 per year (it is about $600 at purchasing power parity; in the United States is $49,000 and in Quatar $104,300). Somalia has been in protracted crises since 1991 due to an ongoing conflict involving the army, clans and sub-clans, as well as proscribed groups and frequent droughts. Recently, (2010-2012) the country experienced one of the severest droughts in its history which contributed to a famine that, according to a FAO commissioned study, may have contributed to the deaths of about 258,000 people (about 2.5% of Somali entire population), half of whom were children under the age of five. Why is Somalia so poor? Can its young population do something to change the destiny of this country? Can new famine phenomenon be avoided? What priorities must be followed to make possible a reborn of this troubled country? And what is being done by the international organizations in alleviating the problem? Luca Alinovi, Head of the Officeof theFAO in Somalia answered to these and other questions.
Dr. Luca Alinovi is the Head of the Office a.i. of the Food Agricultural Organization of the United Nations in Somalia. Previously, Alinovi served as a senior economist, of the Agricultural and Development Economics Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. He has led and managed programmes and leading research on food security and agriculture policy analysis in protracted crisis for the last 15 years, both in headquarters and in Eastern and Western African countries. Alinovi has worked as a food security analyst and agricultural economist for FAO, the Italian Development Cooperation, private sector companies and the University of Florence. Mr Alinovi has published papers on food security and complex emergencies with the Accademia dei Lincei, ODI Disasters, and recently has been a guest editor for both the special issue of Disasters on food security and complex emergencies and the book “Beyond Relief: Food Security in Protracted Crises. An Italian national, he has an MSc from the Università di Firenze, Faculty of Tropical Agriculture (Agricultural Economics) and a PhD in Agricultural and Natural Resources Economics.

INTERVIEW - (November 2013)
The interview was realized and published in November 2013 - (Original interview in English)
Somalia - Famine: causes, consequences and proposals for its solution
Question 1: As described in the premise, Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Could you describe the main social and economic characteristics of this country and what are the main obstacles to its development?
The economy of Somalia is heavily dependent on natural resources; mainly the exportation of livestock and in some cases their by-products, followed by charcoal production and export. Around 60 percent of the population practice nomadic and semi-nomadic agro-pastoralism while 17 percent are settled agriculturalists. Overall, the scale of livestock exports and trade determine the terms of the food security of the Somali people. The rural economy remains the mainstay of the economy during the critical period of the transition 
The country has one of the lowest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of USD 284, making it one of the poorest countries in the World. Poverty affects an estimated 73 percent of the population (61 percent in urban centers and 80 percent in rural areas).
For more than two decades, conflict, shocks and disruptions have led to destitution, displacement, hunger, illness, death and the breakdown of families and communities. The narrow economic base, coupled with state failure, protracted conflict, frequent droughts and lack of investment in socio-economic infrastructure are the main obstacles for the economic development in Somalia and severely limit economic growth and employment opportunities.

Question 2: Some of Somali main problems seem to be food crisis and health. Nearly 260,000 people died during the famine that hit Somalia in 2011; half of them were children under the age of five, says the report commissioned by FAO Somalia’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) and the US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FewsNet). What do you think are the root causes of famine and of child malnutrition in Somalia and what are its peculiarities compared with other African food crises (see the food crisis in Sahel)? What are the main consequences in the short and in the long term of the famine in Somalia?
Somalia, as one of the most food insecure countries in the world, has experienced several periods of famine and frequent food crises (mainly in 1991-1992, 2006, 2008 and 2011). The years of conflict have created a situation of protracted and complex emergency which has eroded livelihoods and increased destitution, contributing to high levels of malnutrition and food insecurity. 
The 2011 famine was precipitated by a combination of factors.  Prior to the famine, a significant proportion of the population in south and central Somalia had already been experiencing a protracted food security crisis. A population that had already been weakened by frequent shocks as well as experienced two consecutive seasons of drought from the last quarter of 2010 to the second quarter of 2011; leading to very steep increase in food prices.
The increase in food prices was further exacerbated by conflict that restricted the movement of goods, reduced humanitarian access, thereby limiting the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable population. Although there had been credible and sufficient early warning information that documented and reported on the developing crisis, this did not trigger a timely and adequate response until famine was declared.  The combination of all of these inter-related factors precipitated a famine that led to the loss of an estimated quarter of a million people in Somalia.
Question 3: More than 90% of estimated deaths occurred inside south and central Somalia, where internally displaced people and riverine populations, particularly in Lower Shabelle, Bay and Banadir regions, were disproportionately affected. Why those populations were more affected than others?
As the food crisis worsened, poor and vulnerable people from drought affected areas started to move towards Lower Shebelle, Bay and Banadir in order to access employment opportunities and humanitarian assistance. It is mostly the people who migrated into these regions that were vulnerable. Weakened along the way and died before the massive humanitarian assistance provided following the declaration of famine that, coupled with improved rainfall performance and market conditions, stabilized the situation in late 2011 – early 2012.
Question 4: From 1 (less impacting) to 10 (most impacting), how do you rank the following driving factors of food crisis in Somalia:
Inadequate agricultural system
Food prices volatility
Inadequate food reserves
Inadequate food storing and  transferring facilities
6 (Somalia experiences 40% post-harvest   losses – too high to contribute to food insecurity)
Food availability
Quality of aids
Lack of funding to address long term problems
Civil strifes
Absence of a stable government
Question 5: An important element in solving problems related to food crisis and in facing and preventing famine phenomena is the efficacious presence of International Organizations on the field, helping government in managing information and facing the problem. What are the main International Organizations involved in solving food crisis phenomena in Somalia. In particular, can you explain what role does FAO play in preventing and facing the food crisis in Somalia?
There are a number of international organizations supporting Somalia in sustaining food security across the country. The Organizations include all the major United Nations Agencies, International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs), and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
The role of FAO is mainly two fold; to provide technical support in promoting sustainable agricultural development spanning all technical sectors, as well as provision of food security, nutrition, water and land use information and analysis and intervening with immediate agricultural support in cases of rapid onset agricultural emergencies.
Worth mentioning, In April 2012, FAO, WFP and UNICEF launched a Joint Resilience Strategy to prioritize households/community resilience within their programmes, refocusing modalities of mutual engagement to enhance common analysis, monitoring and evaluation and accountability within a common framework. The three building blocks of the Strategy are:
- Strengthen productive sectors
- Basic services to protect human capital
- Promote safety nets for a minimum of social protection
The programme is based on the acknowledgement that repeated short-term humanitarian interventions have failed to support households’ and communities’ resilience to recurrent shocks, and that a paradigm shift towards longer-term support is needed, which also takes into account the likelihood of various shocks happening again, including drought and climate-related shocks.
Question 6: Do you think famine phenomena are increasing over time in Africa? Why?
Famine occurrences are not increasing over time in Africa although droughts are becoming more frequent.  The investments that have been made in early warning systems across Africa since the famine of the mid 1980s, coupled with coordination mechanisms that allow reasonable and timely response, have managed to prevent the recurrence of famine on such large scale as in the mid 1980s.  Since the mid 80s, there have only been few recorded famines in Africa including South Sudan in the late 1980s, Somalia in the early 1990s, Ethiopia (Gode region) in the late 1990s and most recently the famine in Somalia in 2011.
Question 7: What should be the starting point and in particular the main actions to put in place, in order to prevent future famine phenomena like the recent one in Somalia?
Longer-term sustainable interventions are critical in achieving equitable agricultural growth and rural development; ensuring availability of nutritious food for all, as well as building sustainable livelihoods that will enhance resilience in the face of accelerated disaster cycles and climate variability.  Resilience building provides a strong basis for both social and economic growth, for instance diversification of livelihood opportunities provides the means to shift from subsistence to semi-commercial production, which helps households develop economically and prevent possibility of future famines. 
Restoring peace and stability, and accountable and inclusive governance structures in Somalia, are important prerequisites to preventing future famines. These would pave the way for economic growth, poverty alleviation and the delivery of effective social services. Equally important is the need to address short-term immediate needs of the vulnerable population in equal measure to those that address long-term development needs and help build resilience to future shocks.
Closely related to the above is the need to holistically enhance institutional capacity. Capacity of the relevant government ministries and departments necessary for the sustenance of the gains registered in the short term. Currently, the federal government is short on skilled human resource that can help to coordinate international support towards economic recovery.
Question 8: More in general, what do you think will be the future of African’s countries? What they can do to emerge from the current crisis and to develop? In particular, what do you suggest a young person living in Somalia or in another troubled African country should do in order to improve life conditions in his country?
We consider crucial building the resilience of vulnerable populations and investment in agriculture, improving agricultural productivity and add value to products.
It would also be important to establish market linkages and infrastructure. This will aid in curbing food insecurity and increase opportunities of alternative livelihoods in the face of shocks.  In terms of African youth, it results key to invest in formal education and vocational skills, provision of mechanisms to access start-up capital in order to improve their livelihoods.