- Saudi Arabia officials have announced that the 9-year ban on import of livestock from Somalia, including Somaliland, is lifted. Thus, Somalia's main export trade may be resumed, promising much needed revenues for Somali farmers.
Following an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever on the African Horn nine years ago, the Saudi government placed a ban on livestock imports from the region. Livestock represents the major export commodity from Somalia, with Saudi Arabia being the main market. Thus, the ban, which was expected to be short-lived, strongly affected the rural economy of Somalia.
With the Rift Valley Fever long gone, Somalia and the breakaway state of Somaliland have lobbied for the lifting of the ban, holding Saudi Arabia was causing major damage to their economies. However, with now good animal health infrastructure and quarantine centres in place, the Saudis had sufficient formal reasons to keep the ban in place.
During the latest years, therefore, Somalis have found alternative routes to send parts of their livestock production to Saudi Arabia. Recent Saudi press reports have documented widespread smuggling of Somali livestock into national markets.
Observers in Saudi Arabia and Somalia therefore claim the sudden lifting of the ban is caused by this increased smuggling. 'Al Riyadh' newspaper, relating the two issues, holds Saudi agriculture authorities calculate animal health risks are better controlled by legalising the trade, thus enabling government to screen arriving animals.
The meat market in Saudi Arabia is large, especially during festive seasons, necessitating large imports of especially sheep. Since the ban on Horn livestock, meat prices have increased and bottlenecks are registered in peak seasons such as Eid.
For Somali producers, prices achieved on the Arabian market are far better than in neighbouring African countries. Also efforts by Somali and Somalilander authorities to get access to new markets such as Egypt have proved short-lived.
The livestock trade therefore has been unpredictable for Somali farmers during the last decade, with uncertainties on export markets regarding volumes and prices. Also, the illegal exports to Saudi Arabia are far from as profitable as legal exports will be.
In particular, the self-declared republic of Somaliland is expected to achieve major economic gains from the reopened Saudi market. In Somaliland, were political stability provides farmers with predictable conditions, a boost in livestock production and an export is easily manageable.
"The ban has caused a great suffering to Somaliland whose economy depended mainly on livestock export," Somaliland Interior Minister Ismail Adam Osman said in an appeal to Arab nations a few years ago, lobbying for the lifting of the ban.
The lifting of the ban was announced in a press statement from the Saudi Ministry of Agriculture yesterday. The Ministry said the lifting came to secure supplies of "livestock at reasonable prices" to locals and pilgrims during the upcoming Eid Al-Adha and the Hajj season. It emphasised the Ministry would strictly enforce animal health legislation and scan all imported live animals for possible diseases.
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