The prolonged drought that is currently devastating the Horn of Africa is likely to have a long term impact. Pastoral and semi-pastoral communities have seen their lives blighted, with their livestock decimated as many traditional watering holes have long since dried up. The few haro (hand-dug wells) and ella (deep wells) along with various berkads
(water cisterns) are largely empty or seriously depleted. Matters have been made worse by the loss of groundcover, especially trees which have been cut down for the production of charcoal for cooking (doubly sad as Somaliland has extensive coal deposits). The destruction of trees and over grazing of vegetation has resulted in the erosion of top-soil and thus the further impoverishment of the landscape. In countries such as Somaliland the effect has been devastating as pastoralists have been forced to drift into urban areas.
To the outsider much of Somaliland’s arid and semi-arid landscape appears as hostile to any form of farming as is a lunar landscape; this could not be further from the truth. Somalis have a wealth of knowledge and regional expertise that means that under normal circumstances they are well placed to maximise the land’s potential. A case in point is that of apiculture (bee keeping), something which has long been integral to the lives of rural communities. The honey bee and the fruits of its labours has been appreciated for time in memorial, it even has its own Sura (Sura an-Nahl) in the Qu’ran 16:68:
“And your Lord taught the honey bee to build its cells in hills, on trees, and in (men’s) habitations, and find with skills the spacious paths of its Lord there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colours, wherein is healing for men: verily in this is a sign for those who give thought”
Honey is famed the world over for its medicinal properties and apiculture yields other valuable products such as royal jelly (a natural anti-inflammatory that also acts as a bactericide as well helping to lower cholesterol) and beeswax (ideal for making candles, body creams and shoe polish). Currently it has been calculated that honey accounts for between 4-5% (beesfordevelopment.org) of the income of farming communities in the region. Such a valuable crop deserves more widespread support and recognition. The quality of this product is such that with proper packaging and marketing it could easy find itself on the shelves of premium food emporiums internationally, thus generating valuable foreign currency for the economy.
In common with other aspects of agriculture the drought and general land degradation has hit honey productivity. Many of the flowers, shrubs and trees that prove most attractive to bees are being lost to drought and to the perpetual quest for charcoal and grazing. Somaliland is remarkably biodiverse, but its rich flora and fauna is now under constant threat. If apiculture is to be maintained, consolidated and further developed there has to be strategy that sees the establishment of ‘vegetation corridors’ and ‘vegetation oases’, these not only become a haven for bees, but help support a range other insects, birdlife and other wildlife. Imagine if you will the landscape of the Horn devoid of the following:Biological name Common name in Somali
Conyza stricta Hamur
Acacia seyal Fulay
Grewia decidua Ohop
Acacai nolotica Tugar
Acacia mellifera Bil’il
Institutions such as the University of Barao have already made a start in protecting Somaliland’s plant diversity by establishing a seed bank. The Government of Somaliland now must not only champion beekeeping as a way of sustaining rural communities, it would do well to ensure that it encourages sustainable urban agriculture too. When it comes to Urban Agriculture, the undisputed capital in this regard is Cuba, where the inhabitants of Havana have learnt to capitalise on a rich farming heritage that has yielded remarkable economic, physical and psychological benefits. I have no doubt that Somalilanders can be just an ingenious as their Cuban counterparts, but to date municipalities have failed to take the lead and provided suitable encouragement. Such topics as Urban Agriculture, along with Permaculture are essential areas for research and instruction for specialists in food and farming at the country’s universities and will require sustained investment in research and development.
More effective water harvesting and management is going to be integral to progress in the field of all aspects of agriculture including beekeeping. Whilst efforts are being made to conserve and optimise water resources these still appear to lack an effective co-ordinated approach. The gravity of the current situation begs the question as to whether the existing Ministry portfolios require some form of reappraisal and reorganisation. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Livestock could easily be combined, whilst there is a convincing case for the establishment of a Ministry of Water and the Environment (something which exists in the UEA) with the existing Ministry of Water and Mineral Resources becoming the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
Somaliland like all mature nations will be required to learn lessons from elsewhere, but ultimately it will survive and prosper if it learns to fully harness the resourcefulness of its people in times of trial and tribulation. Just as the honey bee is industrious and has a sense of the communal good I am confident that Somalilanders will rise to the challenge that faces them and adapt accordingly.
By Mark T Jones