Somalis - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Animal husbandry is traditionally the major subsistence activity, and the only one in large parts of northern and central Somalia. A wealthy household in the north may have several hundred camels and also considerable numbers of cattle, sheep, and goats. The commercialization of the livestock sector has made livestock and livestock products into the single most important contributor to the gross national product. The total number of camels in Somalia was estimated to be 6.4 million in 1987. Herd management continues to be carried on according to traditional methods, with transhumance between water holes and suitable pastures. In the south, nomadic pastoralism is often mixed with rain-fed agriculture, primarily of sorghum and maize. Other crops include vegetables, fruits, and sesame. With the exception of large foreign-owned banana plantations, agriculture is largely unmechanized, and most crops are planted, weeded, and harvested with hoes and knives. The consumption of fish is increasing, but the 3,300 kilometers of seashore remain little exploited. Hunting is generally seen as defiling and is left to groups that most other Somalis see as inferior.

Industrial Arts. Every one of the larger Somali villages has inhabitants who specialize in the manufacture of iron goods, pottery, and leatherwork. Often such artisans belong to groups that are considered inferior. Larger villages may also host some tailors and, in the riverine zones, sesame-mill operators.

Trade. Although the bulk of agricultural production is for family consumption, the sale of surplus in small-scale markets provides important income for most families. Both crops and animal produce are traded. Women have come to play increasingly important roles in commercial activities.

Division of Labor. Polygynously formed households assume specialized functions within the larger family economy. One wife and her children may be chiefly responsible for the camels, whereas another such sibling group is assigned the agricultural work. The herding and milking of camels is the exclusive domain of men, but women and children usually tend the small stock. Both men and women engage in farm work. Child rearing and household chores are the tasks of women and their elder daughters. Somali men often express embarrassment if they stay for a long period in the home.

Land Tenure. Pastoral territorial control of rangelands is primarily centered on the water sources that are available within an area. Thus, although there exists some association between a clan group and a certain tract of land, more definite property rights are articulated regarding wells and other water points. Pastoral territorial feuding is most marked where routes of migration conflict with the interests of cultivators. Agricultural territory belongs to the person who has cleared or inherited the land, and, theoretically, it may be sold or rented as that person sees fit. In colonial times, a form of community control was exercised; members of the same village or kin group were given the first option to buy farmland. The military regime has since introduced a system of centralized farm registration, and there have been reports that wealthy urban settlers use the system to appropriate rural estates from small-scale farmers.

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