Almost 75% of the Somali population - one of the highest percentages in the world - makes their living off the land, either in agriculture or herding. Even urban Somalis are likely to have family in the country and have experienced the traditional Somali way of life.

Over the centuries, Somali herders adapted to breeding livestock in a vast area without any source of permanent water. Every clan has its own herding routes, which during the course of a year allow herders to take their herds from one seasonal waterhole to the next. Sheep, goats, cattle and camels are common livestock animals and still Somalia’s main export. Camels are the most important animal; able to survive dry seasons better than any other animal, camels also serve as sources of milk and meat, and carry portable shelters as well as the elderly and the sick.

Although livestock is Somalia’s main export, cash crops are also important. Exports include maize, sorghum, sugar cane, cassava and beans. Grown in plantations along the Juba and Shebelle rivers, bananas are also one of Somalia’s principal crops. This dependence makes the economy vulnerable to international price fluctuations and poor harvests caused by drought and flooding. Fishing, formerly a small activity along coast, is now being exploited for commercial export; however, the industry still relies on traditional small-scale methods.

Industry in Somalia consists of some mining, especially of salt and precious metals, though recent discoveries of natural gas and petroleum have attracted interest from US and European companies. Manufacturing is mostly concentrated on processing foods such as sugarcane, and animal hides.

Somalia’s economy has suffered from years of civil unrest and war. A formal banking and taxation system wasn’t reintroduced until 1993, and the 1995 departure of UN forces resulted in lost income through unemployment. Because wages are very low, many Somali's have second jobs, often small businesses run by two or three family members. Women make up one-third of the labour force, including a number of independent business owners.

  Did you know?
Children of nomadic herders usually take care of the animals. Boys are responsible for their family’s camels, which must be fed and milked three times a day, while girls tend the sheep and goats.