From Green Desert to Farmland In Somalia

June 1, 2017

By Charles Otieno, Technical Unit Lead, WV Somalia and Tony Rinaudo, Principal Natural Resources Advisor, WV Australia.

A ‘green desert’ seems a contradiction in terms. The word ‘desert’ conjures a barren, empty expanse rather than green bushes.

Yet when a single species invades thousands of hectares of land as it has in Somalia, a green desert is what you get.  The species known as Prosopis juliflora has become a scourge in Somaliland.

This hardy tree forms impenetrable thorn thickets, stifling pasture growth, blocking passage by livestock and humans and disrupting agricultural activities. When managed properly it can become a valuable multi-purpose tree species, providing including fuel, poles, fodder for livestock and bees, human food and services such as reduction in soil erosion, increasing soil fertility and reducing searing temperatures and strong winds.

Fig. 1. Above Left: Prosopis juliflora invasion forming impenetrable thorn thickets and renders many thousands of hectares of grazing and cropping land unusable in Somaliland.

Fig 2. Above Right: Prosopis juliflora’s thorniness make it difficult to manage.

However, no control measures to date have been successful in checking its spread — let alone eradicating it. Even in the USA, Prosopis — known as mesquite –  has defied control, despite millions spent on chemical and physical removal.

The good news is that the local community in Beerato village — together with World Vision — has reclaimed eight hectares of infested land through the Enhancing Resilience in Somalia Funded by Australia DFAT. They are now putting it into crop production.

The area has alluvial deposits along the river bed but was inaccessible to the community for either crop or livestock production. The cleared Prosopis is being used for charcoal production, fencing and construction of a shelter by the community. Money raised by selling the Prosopis charcoal is partly invested into a community fund to purchase food and pay for tilling the land during lean seasons. This will encourage continuous reclamation.

World Vision Somaliland has also partnered with The University of Nairobi and IGAD-Sheikh Veterinary school to research and trial Prosopis pods for livestock feed.

Fig 3. Above left: Technical Team Unit Lead for World Vision Somalia, Charles Otieno and Community leader Abdilahi Ali H.Abdilahi in cleared area next Prosopis wood to be converted to charcoal.

Fig 4. Above Right: Charles and Esther, a Biotechnologist from the University of Nairobi, in cleared area. Some trees have been left to provide shade, windbreak and fodder.

This approach is sensible and practical. It won’t eradicate Prosopis – though by hard and continuous cutting along with planting preferred tree species and regenerating indigenous species, it can be locally eliminated.

What this approach does do is turn an environmental hazard into an asset, while curtailing its spread. Additionally, if milling renders the seeds unviable, the pods can be a valuable fodder supplement to livestock with no danger of further disseminating seed.

A sustainable charcoal industry based on managing an invasive species also reduces poverty and tree loss. Poverty is currently one of the major drivers of deforestation. Poor people often get drawn into the charcoal industry with loans, and to pay their debts they cut all of the best trees, with no thought for future generations.

Community leader Abdilahi Ali H.Abdilahi, father of 4, is thrilled with the changes.

“We had given up on our land ever being useful to us again as we watched hopelessly as Prosopis took over,” he said.

“Today, we can see that through hard work and partnering with World Vision we can build a sustainable future and restore our way of life. Beerato community has benefited from this project and even earned income for four months during the drought period!”

The project will support households to plant sorghum, maize and cow peas and it will work with the University of Nairobi to provide fortified orange flesh sweet potatoes rich in vitamin A and B Carotene.