I get around 12.5 Somali Shillings (less than 1 cent at the official exchange rate) for each bundle that we sell, but it’s not enough”. With 8 children, Mohammed is struggling to support his family, but like many pastoralists who have been severely affected by the drought, he has little choice but to seek alternative ways to survive.
During Siad Barre’s regime, cutting down trees was prohibited. The village chief tells me, “if you came here 20 years ago, you would have seen plenty of trees and different vegetation”. Today chopping down the trees in the open woodlands is degrading the environment and worsening water shortages in the region. The forests act as a natural buffer zone, which help preserve water during the dry season. I pass dry seasonal river beds where water was once collected at shallow depths, but, with increasing deforestation, the levels have become insufficient.
Oxfam’s local partner Candlelight is trying to combat the effects of deforestation by establishing basic civil engineering projects using locally paid labor. Such cash for work initiatives are helping communities to protect the fragile ecosystem, and prepare for future droughts. Soil banks protect water run-offs and ensure that precious water once again flows to vital grazing areas. They also provide much needed income to people affected by droughts.
Fatima, a widow with 6 children, is one those who has benefited from Oxfam’s project and shows me the soil banks across which a thin veil of green is beginning to spread from the recent rains. She recalls that “during the drought, half of our live stock died and we couldn’t cultivate our lands”. Fatima is reliant on her sorghum crop and animals for survival.
Fatima’s two eldest sons were employed by Oxfam to build the protective soil banks. She tells me that the project has both controlled the water run offs and significantly increased the family’s monthly income. She smiles broadly beneath her colorful headscarf, “we usually only make $ 25, but during the project we got $ 180 for the whole family”. With the extra income, Fatima was able to pay school fees for her children. Fatima, like many, has high hopes for the results of the project. “We usually harvest about 20 sacks, but I hope that we’ll harvest hundreds of sacks! I hope our livestock will increase because there is more grazing land”.
For many pastoralists, like Fatima and Mohammed, Oxfam’s conservation project means that local people will no longer have to destroy the forests to survive. Across the village, a group of elders gather under the shade of an acacia tree sharing a newly sacrificed goat for “Alla-bari” (literally thanksgiving) to celebrate the coming of the rains. In a few weeks, if the rains continue, the rainy season will transform Oxfam’s conservation areas into an oasis of green.