From desperation comes hope: FMNR in Somaliland

April 7, 2016

by Silvia Holten – World Vision Germany 

Dirie Mohamed is a pastoralist and walked hundreds of kilometres with his 150 goats and 12 camels from northern Ethiopia to northern Somaliland. He left his wife and children at home with just a small number of animals due to the extended drought and fodder shortage. Both humans and animals are suffering from one of the worst droughts in recent years. Dirie hoped that he would find some green feed for his animals in Somaliland, but his hopes were dashed. The landscape in Somaliland is also barren and desolate. Here and there, there is still some greenery, but it is mostly an invasive thorny tree called mesquite (Prosopis Juliflora), that is beginning to overrun thousands of hectares of land.

Meanwhile, almost all of the livestock have starved and those remaining are weakened by hunger. Of Dirie’s herd, only 2 female camels and 25 goats remain. But these animals are too weak to walk all the way back to Ethiopia. Dirie’ choices are to either continue searching for pasture in Somaliland or to go to one of the assembly stations which have been established for cattle nomads by the government. Dirie like many Ethiopians migrated to Somaliland in search of better pastures and now find themselves trapped with their animals too weak to return. The government has organized transport from assembly centres for anybody who wants to be taken back to the border along with their livestock.

When the animals die, people start dying.

Like Dirie many pastoralist have the same problems. About four million people live in Somaliland, which considers itself as an independent state, but is not recognized by the international community. This is a problem, because Somaliland cannot apply for financial aid as an independent nation. About 2/3 of the population are pastoralists who are constantly moving from one place and one country to another. Therefore, it is difficult to determine exactly how many people are affected by the drought. In the west and northwest of the country alone, an estimated 20,000 families are affected. Each family consists of an average of 6-8 members.

In Garissa township where a food distribution had been organized we met government officials. For six days the Somaliland Health and Interior ministers and the Vice-President travelled in Awdal region, northwest Somaliland to assess the situation. It is clear that unless there is rain in the next few days, the situation will deteriorate rapidly.

Meanwhile, in Awdal region hunger related deaths of the first children and adults have been recorded. In the World Vision Garissa hospital, we visited a young woman with her son, Roobleh who is 17 months old and severely undernourished. His arms and legs were extremely skinny and he weighed only 4.7 kg and is just 70 cm tall. In the last four weeks Roobleh was fed only tea and water and a little oatmeal. Finally, he was only accepting water. When we met Roobleh he was lying listlessly on the bed next to his mother. He couldn’t even manage to cry as he was too weak. However, at the clinic he is now receiving the special care and nutrition that he requires and doctors are hopeful for a quick recovery.

Many people whom we met said that this is the worst drought they have ever experienced in their country.

World Vision is working in the west and northwest of Somaliland in 10 different districts and supports two ambulances, which bring sick and malnourished people to the Hospital. Several World Vision teams drive through the areas where pastoralists live with their families. The teams are trying to find families where malnourished children and adults are living. For the children they distribute special food that is enriched with vitamins and micronutrients. They also distribute cash to the families, so that they can buy food and water for the rest of the family on the market. In pastoralist societies custom dictates that the existing food is shared amongst the whole family. Therefore it is important that all members of a family receive food assistance otherwise they would be obliged to share the special food needed by children with the whole family.

But even for a dry region like Somaliland there is hope for a better life and as bad as the drought is, it is also an opportunity for people to think of alternate livelihood strategies. Many pastoralists are now ready to settle down and grow fruits and vegetables. World Vision supports this new thinking and has developed a regenerative reforestation method called Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR). Some communities now support this method and despite the drought and barren soil, there are astonishing results. On the way to the coast, we stopped at an FMNR pilot project, which was fenced to protect regenerating trees from livestock. The head of the community, Haybe Ismail Buni told us that many trees have now grown well – from 90 cm in 2014 to now 1.90 cm. The trees – mostly indigenous acacias – provide shade, fuel wood and fodder. They help to build soil fertility and to prevent erosion. Meanwhile, because of the emerging forest, the community has started bee keeping. Already three harvests have been made with a total value of 1,450 USD. Because of the success of this pilot, neighbours are beginning to copy it, and current group members are practicing FMNR outside of the pilot area.

Knowledge can fight hunger

Finally during our trip we visited farmer Ibrahim. He owns a small field, where he is practicing agroforestry – growing a mix of trees and crops on the same land. Trees lower temperatures and wind speeds which helps keep soils moist for longer. Various tree species provide edible fruit, fodder, traditional medicines and fuel wood. Ibrahim has even planted fruit trees, including a date palm. In the shade of trees, soil temperatures can be 35 degrees Celsius lower than in soils in full sun, where temperatures may reach as high as 70 degrees C. such high temperatures make it extremely difficult for many crops and vegetable varieties to grow.

Additionally in his shade house Ibrahim together with his son Saleban maintain a tree nursery and grow tomatoes and peppers as well.

Ibrahim and his family are doing well – despite the drought. The family income has improved through sale of fruits and vegetables at the nearby market. The additional income means that all their children attend school and eat three meals per day. The extra income also enabled Saleban to get married and start a family.

Even Prosopis Juliflora can be useful if managed well. The fruits are edible for humans and livestock, the wood is very hard and could be used for firewood of for furniture.

But many people in Somaliland and Somalia lack knowledge on sustainable rangeland and tree management. Therefore, it should be a high priority of governments, NGOs and donors to build capacity of the people to roll out such interventions at scale. In this way, even when drought comes, communities and their livestock can be resilient.


Originally posted on the World Vision Germany blog