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Insure a Goat, Save the World

A Somali businessman breaks pro-nomad.
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As political insults go, saying a place "could turn into Somalia" has become a particularly nasty bit of shorthand. A few years ago Libya was going to "turn into Somalia," and now Syria will become this symbolic place of ungovernable chaos, wanton violence, and a civilian population trapped in an economy based on herding goats. In a desert.

Writing from Mogadishu, Somalia, small business advocate Mohamed Ali tries to re-frame that third cliche, of the stone-age nomad, as part of the basis for recovery. Encouraging a "new model nomad" could pay off, he argues.

Policymakers often view nomadic pastoralism as an archaic and unproductive way of life, with little economic benefit. But the opposite is true. Pastoralist systems are 20% more productive than traditional ranching methods. And pastoralists are more market-savvy than many believe; the Horn of Africa’s pastoral livestock and meat trade is estimated to be worth $1 billion.

A billion dollars is the sort of number people will notice. But isn't Somalia a little dry to actually feed a country off of its production? Nope, argues Ali:

Using land that cannot support conventional agriculture, pastoralists and agro-pastoralists produce meat, milk, and livestock products that sustain millions. Indeed, according to an OECD study, they are responsible for 10% of the world’s meat production; in some regions, they supply as much as 60% of the beef and 70% of the milk consumed.

Anyway, this is the economy they've got to work with for the moment, he points out. Fifty percent of Somalia's population make their living from shepherding animals, according to UNESCO statistics. So you're really talking about making the existing economy a little less risky. You can give people insurance, for starters, he says. From there, the local economics would take over, and solve some of the country's food supply problems as well. The scheme appears to have worked in other places where the options are limited and the soil's not great. Try the Gobi Desert:

Following the example of Mongolia, where pastoralists can purchase private insurance to protect against the loss of herds from drought, microcredit programs could be established to insure pastoralists against similar risks and thus provide funds for restocking after a disaster. In order to enhance their livelihoods’ stability and profitability further, pastoralists need to be integrated into the formal economy.

It's not every day one reads an argument for nomad-nomics. ("Nomanomics?" Can we copyright that?) Read the entirety of Ali's reasoning via the ever-provocative egghead klatsch Project Syndicate, here.