Living off land and sea: Plans to develop agriculture and fishing to promote food and employment security

The goal of diversifying Djibouti’s economy will depend on raising the contribution of several sectors to the country’s GDP. Among the government’s priorities are the expansion of agriculture and fishing activities. The contribution of agriculture to the national GDP is expected to increase from 3.7% in 2012 to 4.1% in 2022 and 5% of GDP by 2035, according to government plans stated in the Djibouti Vision 2035 strategy document.

There is quite a lot of scope for expansion. Currently, the sector is currently made up of small plots and subsistence farming techniques – which is perhaps no surprise given the arid climate. The government is hoping to increase the amount of locally cultivated products and seafood, but also establish agro-industrial production units to add value to production, with an eye to exports to Gulf states.

If successful, the boost in agricultural activity could have a significant impact on the economy as a whole, helping to address several challenges, including unemployment, high dependence on imports, food security and a rising level of desertion of rural areas due to urban migration.

Government Strategy

In 2009 the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Marine Affairs put together the Master Plan for the Development of the Primary Sector (Plan Directeur du Développement du Secteur Primaire, PDDSP). The plan established several goals, including the expansion of the sector’s contribution to national GDP, the increase of crop and animal production, as well as a better exploitation of the country’s water resources. This strategy can only be achieved through improved access to surface and underground water resources, training of human resources and improvement of farming techniques, as well as better exploitation of rich sea resources along Djibouti’s shores.

Existing government and private sector support initiatives target the sector for preferential treatment, and have met with some success. Tax exemptions for fuel used in fishing activities and farmer access to agricultural equipment and seeds through the participation in sector cooperatives help to somewhat mitigate the difficulties the sector faces.

Raising the importance of agriculture on Djibouti’s economic development will, nonetheless, have to be balanced with the inherent challenges of the land. Water scarcity has long prevented the sector from growing. Although the government understands that it will unlikely be able to develop large-scale agriculture production, authorities see small-scale agricultural development on certain products as an effective way to create employment and increase the amount of locally produced food. According to the Djibouti Vision 2035 strategy document, only about 10% of local demand of fruits and vegetables is currently secured through domestic production. Vegetable, fruit plantations and forage to be used for animal fodder, as well as animal husbandry are some of the areas the government is keen to improve on.

Improving Access To Water

Water access is one of the key constraints the government is looking to overcome. Of a total area of 100,000 ha that could be farmed using surface water, only about 2% is irrigated, according to the Djibouti Vision 2035 strategy document and the World Trade Organisation. According to Said Mohamed Baragoita, who is in charge of the Programme for the Mobilisation of Surface Waters and Sustainable Management of Lands (Programme de Mobilisation des Eaux de Surface et Gestion Durable des Terre, PDSP), Djibouti has close to 10,000 ha of arable land with potential access to groundwater, although only 1500 ha are currently being cultivated. However, a government project aims to increase the number of access points to subterranean water reserves. In 2015 work on the Saday dam was completed in the Obock region. The project is set to improve collection and storage of water resources by mobilising surface water for drinking, agriculture and livestock breeding. Construction was financed by the African Water Facility, the Saudi Fund for Development and the Djiboutian government.

Other projects will contribute to water availability by bringing more potable water resources online. Currently under construction is a $322m water pipeline that will link the Ethiopian town of Shinilé all the way to Djibouti City. Financed by China Exim Bank, construction began in March 2015. Also under construction is a €40.5m desalination plant, which will be built through a loan from the EU.

Establishing a sustainable agricultural sector in such an arid place requires some radical solutions. As part of the water access programme, the Ministry of Agriculture imported 20,000 palm trees from Saudi Arabia in 2006. These are being used not only for the production of dates, but also to allow the necessary shade for other produce to be farmed under better conditions. The government has also been testing different irrigation techniques that can work across the country. In Damerjog, a 5 ha pilot farming project was established in order to test out drip irrigation.


Animal husbandry, which has a long history in Djibouti, is also part of the government’s strategy. Unfortunately, statistics on the existing animal population are hard to come by, with the World Trade Organisation only providing data from 1995.

A key plank of the husbandry strategy looks to improve conditions, especially for cattle herding, through better disease control and an increase in average yields, both via genetic improvements, as well as through the improvement of fodder availability. Certainly, Djibouti is well-placed to export livestock, if it can successfully expand its herds. The country is already a centre for cattle exports from nearby Ethiopia and Somalia, and conditions for the sector will improve once a new livestock export terminal currently under construction at Damerjog is completed. According to the WTO, about 2m animals pass through the centre every year.

According to the PDDSP, the livestock subsector is the strongest link in agriculture production. However, citizens involved in animal husbandry are mainly nomadic and the current situation is not sufficient in meeting the country’s needs.


Besides the possibilities to develop food security and employment opportunities on land, Djibouti is also looking at the economic potential of its maritime riches. The Djibouti Vision 2035 lists up to 47,000 tonnes of exploitable maritime food resources per year. In addition to addressing domestic consumption, authorities also see export potential in neighbouring Ethiopia, the Gulf states and even Europe. Authorities have set a target of 20,000 tonnes of sea products by 2019, up from an annual 2000 tonnes, in 2013, according to information included in the (Stratégie de Croissance Accélérée et de la Promotion de L’Emploi, SCAPE). This will require a reorganisation of the sector in terms of human resources and distribution capacity. The sector is focused on artisanal practices, and employed close to 3000 people as of 2014, according to the WTO. Retaining the sufficient amount of adequate human resources to work in agriculture, fishing and animal breeding activities will be the key driver of growth.

In 2012 the government opened a training centre for agriculture, animal breeding and fishing activities in Damerjog, with associated centres in Dikhil, focusing on horticulture and in Obock, charged with providing training programmes for the fishing sector. SCAPE authorities expect the primary sector to account for 3.5% of jobs by 2024, from 2.3% in 2012.

Food Security

As with a number of other countries in the region, including the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Djibouti has taken a look at innovative solutions for addressing issues of food security. Given that the country, like so many markets in the emerging world, is heavily reliant on imports for key staples, it has sought to reduce its exposure to fluctuations in global markets for commodities like wheat. Food security became an even more critical priority for the country after the 2008 financial crisis, which led to price increases in some basic staples which, in conjunction with draught in 2009, hugely impacted parts of Djiboutian society. This led to the establishment of the Djiboutian Food Security Company (Djiboutienne de Sécurité Alimentaire, SDCA), charged with keeping food prices manageable.

The SDCA is also in charge of agricultural lands owned by the Djiboutian government in neighbouring Ethiopia and Sudan, established to take advantage of lower production and labour costs. These are used to produce sorghum, wheat and sunflowers. The cereals are sold at subsidised prices in local markets in Djibouti in order to help keep prices down. Since 2008 the government has made deals with neighbouring governments to gain access to 4200 ha of arable land in Sudan and an additional 5000 ha in Ethiopia. Similar deals are expected to be signed in the future.