Pastoralism in Somalia: A Lifestyle under Threat

Pastoralism in Somalia: A
Lifestyle under Threat The pastoral way of life is dying a slow
death. Pastoral communities make up
around 60 per cent of the Somali
population. The majority of pastoralists in
the North of Somalia are in the Haud and
Sool Plateau. Their livelihood mainly
depends on herding livestock, good rains
and pasture. Now we are seeing this way
of life coming under threat because of
recurring drought, environmental
degradation and livestock depletion. In
order to understand how we have
reached this stage we need to look to the
Somali pastoralists rely on livestock as a
source of income and sustenance. They
mainly herd goats, sheep, camels and
cattle. Male camels, donkeys and horses
are used for transport only. However, in
the North of Somalia many pastoralists
use trucks to move their livestock to
greener spots and bring water from
water points to the livestock when in dire
need due to drought. Camels and horses
determine the economic rank of a herder
family while the number of male
members of an extended family identifies
each family’s political, military and social
South Somalia and few communities in
the North practice semi-pastoralism.
South and Central Somalia are both camel
and cattle herders. Both groups practice
rain-fed farming and produce crops. They
store it in traditional underground
storages for their supplies while they sell
the excess for their other needs.
Semi -pastoral communities supplement
their way of life with rain-fed farming
during rainy seasons. They produce
sorghum, millet, corn and beans. Yet this
is becoming increasingly difficult because
of lack of good rains and environmental
degradation in recent years.
Somali house, aqal.
Times past
I was born to a pastoralist family that
roamed between the Laas Qoray coast of
the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Gebi
valley. We crossed some of the highest
points of Al-Maddow, The Black Mountain
region of the Gulley Range. My immediate
family did not own camels except one or
two for transport; therefore, we did not
venture out into the wilderness of Sool
Plateau unless a severe drought
compelled us to do so.
In those days, many of the daring
pastoral families moved around within
areas that predominantly had lions, such
as the Sool Plateau and the Haud. These
areas had plenty of camel pasture which
consisted of a variety of acacia forests but
water points were scarce and distant
from each other. Camel herds stayed 30
days without water while being driven to
a water point for two days, keeping
camels thirsty for 32 days within the Sool
In the Haud zone, camel herds went
without water for longer periods. In both
Haud and Sool Plateau, herders consumed
camel milk for water and food purposes
for as long as their herds stayed without
water. Goat and sheep herding families
stayed closer to water points; their
animals surviving 15 days without water
during dry seasons.
Although life was difficult for herders
because they had to deal with wildlife
such as lions attacking both livestock and
humans, grasslands and acacia forest
species flourished and plant extinction
was not a concern.
Technology and colonial economy
During the colonial era, British
Somaliland colonial authorities introduced
boreholes and berkads, underground rain
water collection points made of cement.
Livestock trade found sizeable foreign
markets in the Arab world and as a
result, pastoralists with a good amount of
herds sold livestock to urban livestock
traders. With this extra cash they were
able to build berkads all over the Haud
and the Sool Plateau, increasing their
herds and overcrowding the water points,
causing desertification around permanent
water points.
Out of the borehole and berkad
proliferation, villages emerged and grew
into towns and cities with their own
cooking energy, water and building
material needs. This only accelerated the
desertification in the making. With the
introduction of taxation on exports in
particular livestock, hides and skins,
Arabic gum and frankincense as well as
imports such as clothes and dry rations,
the colonial powers encouraged
urbanization even more to cover the cost
of their administration. Very few schools
and health facilities came out of the taxes
collected. Only boys went to schools and
got menial jobs as assistants to the
colonial elites for the first 30 years. Until
today women make the biggest jobless
and illiterate sector of all Somalia.
The pastoral way of life became the
economic engine as it continued to
flourish, consuming the fragile
landscapes. The first casualty was the
wildlife. As grazing dwindled when
livestock was raised for the export
market, DDT (Dichloro Diphenyl
Trichloroethane) and similar sprays and
powders were introduced to the pastoral
environment in order to keep the
multitude of livestock herds safe from
ticks. Lions and other predators fell to
metal traps introduced by the colonial
masters. When a lion killed a camel,
poisonous powders were put on the
carcass and left for all predators, vultures
dying in great numbers. Wild beasts as
well as various kinds of deer disappeared.
Also, more wildlife fell due to colonial
masters hunting game for sport.
So far no research or study counts the
cost of urban centers inflicted on the
pastoral way of life. Billions of forest
plants fell due to charcoal production,
forests burned for cooking energy
consumed by city dwellers. In addition,
charcoal exportation to the Gulf countries
continues. Countless tracks crisscrossing
the new desert made by forest clearing
and trucks replacing awr, he-camels, for
transport among pastoral communities
has inadvertently created channels for
rain water. The waters flowing through
the channels are taking the top soil,
animal droppings and seeds carrying it all
away to the sea, making the fastest
growing desert.
To be fair to the colonial powers, they put
into place a forest and grassland
protection system as desertification
reared its ugly head. Major droughts
occurred such as Siiga Casse in 1950 and
Gargaar in 1974, but there were only one
or two failed rainy seasons once every ten
to fifteen years. Forest rangers were
created to protect the environment and
the Department of Forestry was
A small number of trained forest rangers
were trained but could not effect positive
change on their own. However, some
pastoral communities who did experience
rangeland management within the Somali
cultural and governance systems (lead by
Sultans and Chiefs) supported the new
department and its initiatives. They sent
messages to the government’s closest
stations and their rangers when they
spotted environmental destruction or
abuse. The government and the pastoral
communities learned to cooperate along
the lines of environmental protection
concerning forest plants and grasslands.
Not much attention was given to the
wildlife. Unfortunately, charcoal
production became the only cooking
energy available for the cities and towns.
The Department of Forestry gave a
license to small companies to produce
charcoal and firewood out of the dry
trees lying around unused for centuries.
The colonial government used this wealth
of timber and dry wood for cooking
energy, yet they continued harvesting live
trees for construction of Aden city in
Southern Yemen, where the British
military garrisons were stationed.
As wildlife decreased and livestock
increased, ticks carried and housed by
wildlife attacked livestock more and
presented new animal diseases. Thus,
DDT became more in use and animals
were dipped in a pool of water and DDT
mixture few times a year. Since becoming
aware, the pastoralists started using
other chemicals/medication such as
CYERMETHRIN and have moved away
from DDT during the last few years.
Camel carcass on the Sool Plateau.
After independence
In 1960, once Somalia was born out of the
Italian and the British protectorates,
governance systems put in place by the
foreign colonizers continued to work
unchanged for the first five years.
Corruption increased as two systems
merged. Many weaknesses and loopholes
were exploited by greedy politicians.
Integrating the two previous systems of
governance was not executed cohesively.
The voters were not very educated and
put all their trust in these so called
freedom fighters who would become
these politicians. The latter also had little
education and were not very experienced
in governance. Thus they fell back into
the very systems that they hated under
the British and the Italians.
More berkads mushroomed all over the
valleys that produced major fodder, and
charcoal production pushed dry firewood
close to exhaustion. More and more
pastoral families who had one or two
family members who worked in the city
or had businesses bought trucks to move
their families close to new pastures. With
trucks and tankers they receive water for
livestock and people from wherever it
rains, either paying with exportable
livestock or in cash, often a loan.
As Somalia’s last leader before the civil
war, Siyad Barre, lost power and Somalia
fell into a government vacuum, land for
pasture went for grabs. Pastoral
communities competed for pasture
against charcoal burners. Charcoal
exporters were winning. Are winning.
Charcoal is exported to the Middle East,
in particular, to Dubai because of the
cash availability while livestock export to
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries
was banned for political reasons for the
last five years. Knowing very well that
Somalia has no government to protect its
environment, the Dubai government and
the UAE in general continue to give a deaf
ear to the cry of environmental activists
who demand they stop importing
charcoal from Somalia. United Arab
Emirates do not need charcoal for energy
but they enjoy the aroma of the Somali
acacia charcoal used for burning incense,
barbecues and smoking Shisha, the water-
pipe. Luxury and survival are in
competition here and the perceived
luxury of the rich Arabs is succeeding.
Displacement and charcoal trade
During the last 20 years of displacement
and war, a huge influx of Internally
Displaced populations (IDPs) joined the
pastoral communities. Pastoral
communities welcomed their clan
brothers who were displaced, looted and
harmed in many ways by opposing,
hostile clans. The newcomers came with
urban skills but no pastoral skills. The
urban IDPs showed no mercy to the
environment. They wanted money, so
they started introducing kilns and
chopping trees for charcoal, exploring
both domestic and foreign markets.
Unfortunately, the pastoral families found
their own pastoral youth introduced to
mira (Kenyan term for khat, leafy Catha
edulis plant that is considered as a drug),
tobacco/cigarettes and other urban habits
not at all conducive to the pastoral way of
life; the pastoral culture got poisoned by
the urban cousin (IDPs).
Pastoral youth attracted to urban centers
Pastoralists who have seen their way of
life to be no longer sustainable have had
to seek alternative livelihoods and have
been forced to become pastoral dropouts,
often moving to urban settings. This has
especially affected pastoral youth. As they
get a taste for urban night life, Western
clothing, movies, they also come with the
resilience, strength, tactics and
knowledge in gun fighting from their
roles as protectors of the clan. Thus, the
male pastoral youth have become a ready
for hire pool and attracted war-lords,
piracy business and ideological armed
politicians. Piracy is seen as a lucrative
business as it is a way for these young
men to make a lot of money very quickly.
These idle men also fall prey to
fundamentalist militia who wish to use
their zeal for weapons as a way to push
forward their ideology.
Female youth also trickled to towns and
fell into the millions of under-employed
in shanty town business where they
experience extreme poverty, prostitution,
drugs, single motherhood. Their situation
does not attract NGOs (local or
international), UN agencies and in
general, they receive little or no
sympathy from others. Women are
usually scapegoats for social evils and
they are blamed by their families and
societies. Therefore, they suffer alone and
die unnoticed or ignored.
In general, due to the weak infrastructure
unemployment among the urban youth is
high. Thus pastoral youth who move to
urban settings looking for employment
opportunities are often unsuccessful.
Hadaftimo – gulley erosion.
The pastoral way of life is becoming
extinct. The lifestyle of pastoralists is
under threat due to various factors that
include consecutive droughts,
environmental degradation caused by
climate change and charcoal production.
Illegal fishing and waste dumping by
international fishing fleets caused the
elimination of marine livelihoods and
marine life conservation programs as
income generation alternatives. Pastoral
dropouts are attracted to piracy as they
are forced to seek out alternative
livelihoods. The environment is the key to
their survival and its conservation could
enable pastoralists to ensure them a new
beginning, a return to maintain their
lifestyle.《 Fatima Jibrell》EDITED BY BASHIR FARAYARE



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