A bumper harvest of vegetables in Bardera, in southern Somalia’s Gedo region, has brought relief to local households on one hand but at the same time great losses to small-scale farmers, who had not planned around a fall in food prices.
Local farmers invested heavily in fuel for generators and irrigation pipes to channel as much water as they could from the depleted river Juba, which has run dry in places last year, when they began planting their crops three months ago.
The chairman of the farmers’ association in Bardera, Mohamed Abdirahman Matow, told Radio Ergo that 350 generators were in use on around 10,000 hectares of farmland in the area. The farmers expected they would manage to get a reasonable harvest despite the long drought, enough to make a good return on their investments in irrigation.
The river rose this month, however, after rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands that is not normally expected in March. There is now a glut of fresh produce from numerous farms that has swamped the local markets. Much of the excess produce cannot be transported elsewhere before it goes bad.
“I thought I would become rich overnight, but I still owe back all the expenses I incurred,” said Abdullahi Abdirizak, one of the famers bringing his produce to the local market.
Abdullahi planted eight of his 10 hectares in Hagar-bulle village, 13 km from Bardera, with tomatoes, bananas, watermelons, lemons and pumpkins.
A10-litre bucket of tomatoes that he would have expected to sell for 175,000 Somali shillings ($7.6) is now selling for just 20,000 shillings (less than $1). Similarly, a bucket of lemons has fallen from 60,000 to 23,000 shillings ($2.6 to $1).
“There has never been a worse day in the market!” Abdullahi complained.
For ordinary residents, the good flow of water in the river again and the low food prices are a double blessing. Said Hussein, for example, told Radio Ergo this has changed the lives of poor families.
“Due to high prices of food [in the drought] I was spending all my income on food for the family. I sometimes also needed to buy food on credit. But since the prices dropped we can use our money to buy other things as well,” Said said.
Vegetables that cannot be stored for more than a week are being sold by small-scale local famers at throw-away prices. They have no means of organizing how to make use of the surplus food.
The larger-scale business people, meanwhile, are able to transport their excess produce to sell in Mogadishu and Baidoa, where there have been lower harvests due to the drying up of the river Shabelle.