Farmers in south-central Somalia - the country's "grain basket," which has been severely affected by conflict and drought in recent years - are for the first time growing and selling grain for other Somalis as part of a United Nations-supported initiative.
"This initiative shows that Somali farmers are not helpless. With minimal assistance including agricultural inputs, tools, technical skills in storage, grading and marketing, they can make a great difference," said Luca Alinovi, outgoing representative in Somalia for the UN Food and Agricultural Organization's (FAO), one of the two UN agencies backing the project.
UN World Food Programme (WFP) Country Representative Stefano Porretti described the initiative "as a significant achievement for the participating farmers" and a milestone for WFP's operations in Somalia.
"Strengthening livelihoods and increasing resiliency is an integral part of WFP's strategy in Somalia," Mr. Porretti added. "WFP will continue to support small-scale farmers in Somalia by empowering them to produce and sell more food, so as to become competitive players in local markets."
The initiative is backed by funding from the Government of Austria which allowed the UN to buy 200 metric tons of high-quality maize from the farmers, for redistribution in other parts of the country.
For the past 12 years, experts from FAO and WFP, supported by the EU, have worked with communities to increase the quality of their production to meet international standards. Farmers were also trained to limit losses by keeping the grain free of contamination and pests, and how to handle, store and manage grain in warehouses.
Despite these advances, Somali farmers only meet 40 per cent of the country's domestic cereal demand. According to the latest figures from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated 857,000 people inside Somalia are currently "in crisis and emergency conditions" in terms of food insecurity.
Somalia has been torn asunder by factional fighting since 1991 but has recently made progress towards stability. In 2011, Al-Shabaab insurgents retreated from Mogadishu and last year, new Government institutions emerged, as the country ended a transitional phase toward setting up a permanent, democratically-elected Government.
Parts of the country have now stabilized, allowing the UN to try to scale up the food initiative.