Tired feet tell a story of hunger and despair in drought-affected Somalia
The Baidoa internally displaced people’s camp in the South-Central of Somalia is over-crowded. Due to drought and conflict the population is expected to grow even faster in the coming months.
THOSE FEET. Those now muddy, and no doubt tired, feet haunt me even days after visiting the Baidoa internally displaced people’s (IDP) camp in the South-Central Somalia. Some of the people I met early November have travelled up to 120 kilometers by foot to escape drought and conflict affected areas to seek safety and simply find food. Somalia is on the brink of famine with half of the population facing extreme and even life-threatening food shortage.
The aim of my visit was to understand the current situation in Somalia’s IDP camps and the impact of drought on their lives, as well as to be able to compare the situation now to how the situation was in June during my last visit to Baidoa.
Frankly, it’s worse, and it is getting worse each week. It is now November, and it should be the rainy season. There have been some rains since Spring 2020, but that doesn’t mean the situation improves. On the contrary, limited rain can worsen conditions in IDP camps due to the potential contamination of water sources and the spread of disease like malaria. The situation has been unbearable for months now. However, the international funding has a major gap when it comes to humanitarian assistance to drought-affected Somalia and the rest of the Horn of Africa. There simply isn’t enough international will for funding now.
Additionally, the price of aid is rising as global inflation affects markets together with cuts to grain imports affected by the war in Ukraine. Somalia has been dependent on the Black Sea grain imports of about 90 per cent of grain used in the country. Prices have increased as much as 50 per cent in Baidoa. A lady running a small shop in the camp told me that now 500 g pasta is USD 0,60, 3 litres of cooking oil USD 7, a biscuit USD 0,10, potatoes one dollar per kilo. Transportation cost to town USD 2. We are all worried about inflation, even in Finland. The prices might not sound that bad, but we need to keep in mind: nearly 7 of 10 Somalis live in poverty, making Somalia one of the poorest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
So, the looming famine is a sum of many crises. People are fleeing to IDP camps like the one in Baidoa due to the conflict and drought. The group of ladies that I spoke with told me they do not expect to go back to their homes due to their livelihood as pastoralists disappearing, due to lack of rain and often their land being taken over by terrorist groups. It would be impossible to go back right now even if a proper rain was received.
The Baidoa camp is overcrowded, too. The influx of IDPs into Baidoa camp is about 30 000–40 000 people a month. Due to drought and conflict the population is expected to grow even faster in the coming months. Officials are worried about both security and health related issues. With so many people living in the overcrowded camp with a lack of proper hygiene, epidemics like cholera, chickenpox and measles are prone to spread uncontrollably.
Finally, the drought is dramatically affecting children. Children are in the most vulnerable position when it comes to acute malnutrition. It is children who are most likely to die during – and even now, before – the famine. A malnourished child is more likely to die because of cholera, malaria, diarrhoea – even a common cold – than a healthy, well fed child. I had an opportunity to observe ongoing treatments, including vaccinations, health assessment of children, and counselling, in the camp health center. I was told that malnutrition is an increasing problem and the clinic provides weekly observation and nutritional supplements. The clinic has already 500 patients per day (the population in the camp being 200 000).
The current crisis is not only one of immediate effect. It’s a crisis affecting the future, too. According to the Somalia education cluster, 70 per cent of the children in Somalia are currently out of school because of the drought. 250 schools are closed, and 720 000 school-aged children (45 per cent of them girls) are at risk of dropping out of school for good. Half of children in the IDP camps have no access to education. The schools inside IDP camps are overcrowded, too. My home country Finland is world famous for its education system, but how would a school in Finland survive if suddenly a school built for 400 students had an influx of 200 students on top of the 1000 students it had yesterday?
It’s not yet too late. We can still help. FCA has already been able, as one of the few NGOs in the Baidoa camp, to aid 700 households with emergency cash distributions. In the coming months we are helping 900 more, since we start also implementing our project in the drought affected region in Somaliland.
9 lessons – Transforming Technical and Vocational Education and Training for Refugees
Growing number of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) from protracted crisis situations are highlighting the need for durable solutions to long-term displacement situations. Instead of waiting forever to return home, young people especially need opportunities to educate themselves and find employment or start their own businesses.
DECISION MAKERS must consider the attributes and capabilities that young women and men already possess as active citizens; eager to participate in society but frustrated at being excluded from decisions that affect their lives.
Of the 20.4 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, around half of them are under the age of 18 and approximately 8 million are of school-going age. Attending Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is an excellent way to develop skills needed in the job market. However, young refugees, internally displaced people and their host communities often lack access to training opportunities.
Therefore Finn Church Aid, UNHCR, GIZ and ILO have come together to identify solutions for TVET in refugee contexts. The result is a multi-country study aimed at identifying and collecting good practices for improving access to and participation in TVET programmes for refugees, internally displaced people, and host communities. The programmes are implemented by national ministries, private sector actors, development agencies and NGOs.
Read on to find out what we’ve learned. You can find the full study here
1 Partnerships – work together, learn from the evidence
This report that is joint work between Finn Church Aid, UNCHR, GIZ and ILO is a good example of partnerships in TVET context. TVET programmes tend to operate in national silos thus extending the dialogue can trigger the sharing of good practice and lessons learnt among TVET actors.
TVET actors, including NGOs, must learn from interventions by other actors. Multi-actor dialogue between funding agencies, national authorities and trade unions and chambers of commerce can expand the role of TVET actors within programmes, embedding multiple components targeting both supply and demand of the labour market.
2 Inclusion of refugees and IDPs to national systems
Refugees need durable solutions. Ten years ago, many Syrian refugees were waiting to go home soon. We cannot wait with education for crises to end. Children and young people especially need education and livelihoods. Inclusion of refugees into systems of host countries is important – but this needs also more long-term funding commitments from donors. Short-term funding cannot create continuity that is needed in protracted crisis.
Translate inclusive national policy documents into regulatory frameworks that recognise the status of refugees and forcibly displaced people and enable their legal inclusion in TVET and skills recognition services and their access to the formal labour market.
We need to value the socioeconomic potential of refugees and IDPs, recognising their skills and strengthening their motivation to lead a self-determined life.
3 Teacher Training – there is no education without teachers
We need to value teachers – also in the humanitarian and refugee context. That means formalising TVET teacher training and this needs investment by governments and donors.
Formal teacher training is important for the quality of TVET and the perception of the TVET teacher’s work. At Finn Church Aid, we include teacher training in our education programmes, including mentorship and guidance for their own careers, plus courses in complementary teaching skills, like psychosocial support and guidance to students.
4 Labour market orientation – work together with businesses
Good labour market integration is crucial for quality TVET, we need to understand labour markets and work closely together with private sector and thirds sector (including labour unions) to provide education that leads to employment or entrepreneurship.
When designing TVET programmes for refugees, there is a need for more real-time and systematic evidence on the evolution of markets, on the issuing of work permits and other risk factors that could hamper access to the formal and informal labour market in vulnerable communities. TVET actors should work together to produce strong labour market assessments and share this information with refugees.
Ensure the involvement of employers in the design of flexible and easily upgradeable curricula and learning material and encourage work-based learning schemes for refugees and host communities
5 Life & core skills + career guidance and counselling
While market-relevant, TVET needs to include life and civic skills like teamwork, communication, critical thinking, problem solving, negotiating or a proactive work attitude – nowadays also remote work skills. These skills make possible adaptation to labour market changes.
Career guidance and counselling is found to be a key to improving completion rates and effective support to TVET learners, including those who require a more individualized approach. Standardised training for career guidance counsellors in teacher training institutes would ensure the quality. Finn Church Aid has proven the concept of career counselling in programmes such as in Cambodia, where counselling for students has led to fewer dropouts and greater progression to higher education.
6 Gender and disability inclusion – support those who may drop out
Students, especially those from vulnerable backgrounds, need help to stay the course. Practically that means support like free day-care for children on site, accessibility for those with disabilities and help with transportation costs to and from training centres.
To encourage long term participation of women, centres must provide safe transport safe boarding house and secure and clean hygiene facilities, free dignity kits for menstruating women and promote all vocational courses for both genders.
Consider disabilities: TVET institutes should accommodate the needs of people with disabilities more explicitly by working more closely with other actors such as the Ministries of Labour and specific commissions for disability, and disabled people’s organizations.
7 Recognition and accreditation – papers matter
Bring recognition of prior learning and mutual recognition of skills and qualifications at national, regional (and global) level: This is of the highest importance. Countries should strengthen their national systems for the recognition of prior learning to ensure that skills and qualifications that people possess are recognized in national labour markets, opening opportunities for further learning, and accessing formal labour markets.
FCA’s approach strongly emphasises Linking Learning to Earning. Core to that is the student’s guarantee that completing the course will lead to a recognised certification or diploma that can use to access the job market. In many contexts, the formal certificate or accreditation also opens the pathway to universities. So, this means the realization of both educational rights and the right to a decent livelihood.
8 Bridging to the labour market
We must engage the labour market, especially the private sector, in curricula building and employment paths. That means arranging internships and apprenticeships that lead to jobs, as well as inviting professionals to give guest lectures.
But it also means persuading employers and governments to recognise skills in students, such as prior experience when formal diplomas are lacking. This helps those with, e.g., low literacy skills, get a foot in the door.
9 Technology, environment, and innovation
The future is green and digital. TVET must recognise the changing employment environment and factor that into the development of TVET courses. Finn Church Aid is deliberately promoting ICT skills and digital professions, such as our innovative Creative Industries programme, currently piloting in Uganda and Kenya.
Greening TVET is crucial for a just transition to green markets. That means adding climate-sensitive content to curricula; promoting resource efficient sectors such as renewable energies, circular economy, bioeconomy and sustainable water management; and offer re-skilling and upskilling courses in growing sustainable economies.
Several smallholder farmers grow maize in Rwamwanja refugee settlement in Uganda. The product has growing markets in nearby areas. Still, due to low productivity and an absence of associative organizations or other platforms for sharing knowledge and empowering local farmers, the markets are not profitable.
Several opportunities to increase income, food security and self-reliance exist, yet the lack of skills in organizing the maize production and making it sustainable remains a challenge. Currently, local buyers – the so-called middlemen – buy the maize at low prices from the smallholder farmers. They add to its value by, for instance, drying or sorting and then sell the maize in towns for much higher prices. Some buyers are processors that grind the maize into flour and other bi-products, such as animal feeds.
Supported by our Food System Lab, the maize farmers will be organized into a strong association that can directly access the maize market without middlemen’s influence.
The Food System Lab Rwamwanja, coordinated by Finn Church Aid, addresses these challenges that refugees and Ugandan women are facing in the settlement by supporting self-sufficiency and community-based extension. Our Food System Lab empowers women smallholders and trains them in improving their maize production in terms of productivity, quality and sustainability, ultimately boosting their access to the maize market.
Supported by our Food System Lab, the maize farmers will be organized into a strong association that can directly access the maize market without middlemen’s influence. This will improve maize prices and smallholder farmers’ income and enhance their socioeconomic wellbeing and societal status.
In the refugee context, the income growth increases household consumption of other food products that complement the World Food Programme’s support of maize meal and beans. To put it simply: refugees earn more money and diversify their diets by affording more nutritious food.
Aiming to change the market system
The vision in our Food System Lab is threefold. Firstly, as the result of improved local extension structure, soil fertility is enhanced, and good maize farming practices are adopted. This, in turn, leads to improved maize yields.
Secondly, value addition through milling and packaging attracts premium price for the product.
Thirdly, by organising themselves better, the smallholder maize farmers can increase their negotiation capacities and thus tap into emerging market opportunities directly, without middlemen’s influence. Our Food System Lab will bring together relevant actors to identify best practices and learnings relating to setting up new livelihood activities in the refugee settlement and developing functioning and equal value chains and market linkages.
The government’s public extension system supports the activities by providing agro-technical knowledge to the farmers to improve maize productivity. The Food System Lab will also establish a Community-based Extension system using Village Enterprise Agents, maize farmers themselves.
Producers will be organized into collectives to sell in bulk and to negotiate prices. Input suppliers provide maize farms with seeds, fertilizers and other necessities related to production, while advisory agencies and NGOs train producers on production techniques. Smallholders can receive financing from micro-finance agencies.
Our Food System Lab will change the market system, making the market increasingly beneficial for low-income maize producers over the upcoming years. By changing the behaviour of market actors, the market works more efficiently and inclusively, responding to the needs of poor households and communities.
Village Enterprise Agents and smartphones improving the knowledge base and communication
One of the key approaches towards achieving increased productivity, sustainable practices and market access is to provide the farmers with the requisite training and on-farm extension support through a community-based extension structure, using a network of Village Enterprise Agents.
To disseminate agro-technical knowledge, the Village Enterprise Agents will be equipped with mobile phones pre-loaded with relevant agricultural content. Our Food System Lab develops an online dashboard to provide timely visibility of field activities, thus enabling timely information sharing, monitoring and learning. Stakeholders at any location will access the online dashboard through a username and password.
Introduction of smartphones in agricultural extension services in hard-to-reach rural areas in Uganda can enable communication with farmers, extension agents and managers in ways that were impossible before.
Photo: Sharon Shaba.
The adoption of smartphones in agriculture extension has occurred even more rapidly in developed countries than in Uganda. However, its adoption merits particular importance and attention because extension services in Uganda have been characterized by too-few field agents and a lack of communication support infrastructure and budget.
However, the smallholders – the majority of farmers in Uganda – are unlikely to have high levels of education (or could actually be illiterate) and generally with little experience operating mobile phones and related Apps.
These challenges can lead to underuse or abandonment of the technology if proper support is not provided. For this reason, Food System Lab Rwamwanja will combine these approaches in a structured system that trains local Village Enterprise Agents to become ‘professionals’, acting as liaisons to provide assistance and seek information on behalf of other farmers in their community.
This way of using technology combines the best of both approaches; the self-guided nature allows the user to tailor information to each farmer’s specific needs and situation. The organization and training of the Village Enterprise Agents mean that the knowledge they will provide can include up-to-date information to introduce smallholder farmers to new ideas.
Author: Elias Katareiha, Livelihood Program Officer, Finn Church Aid