Displaced pastoralists in Somaliland’s drought-hit Togdher region are being paid to clear thickets of an invasive tree that is taking over farm and grazing land.
Around 600 families living in IDP camps in and around Burao have been hired for a two-month project by environmental group, Pastoral Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA). They are paid $82 a month to cut down and burn the Algobra trees, known locally as parasite trees.
Rowdo Adan Jama, 42, told Radio Ergo she was happy with the work scheme as she no longer had to worry about her nine children’s food. They have been surviving on irregular aid in an IDP camp from humanitarian organizations. She used their first $82 salary to buy sugar, rice, flour, oil and milk.
Hassan Awil Dirir of PENHA said the parasite trees have been rapidly invading farmland in Burao and villages including Beer and Yirowe. PENHA started the initiative, with support from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), to give livelihood support to destitute families whilst ridding the area of the plant menace.
Work is being offered to people aged 25-50, who have no source of income. They are required work six days a week. The men cut down the trees then the women burn them.
Rowdo said her husband had no means of supporting the family after they lost their 180 goats and seven camels in the drought over the last two years. The have just 10 goats left.
Abshir Abdi Yusuf, 45, had spent more than a year in Siliga camp with his wife and six children in eastern Burao without any income. He told Radio Ergo they had depended on occasional aid distributions, after losing 180 goats and 26 camels in Habura village, roughly 80 km south west of Burao. He was also very glad to get the work with PENHA, so as to be independent at least for a while.
The Algobra tree, or Prosopis Juliflora, is a very hardy plant that withstands drought because of its deep root system. Introduced in the 1980s as part of reforestation experiments, the invasive tree has been taking over agricultural and grazing land and spreading fast in urban areas all over Somalia.
However, there are differing views among local people and experts as to how to deal with it.
According to Mohamed Farah, a lecturer in botany at the University of Burao, Algobra is not beneficial to people or livestock because of its exhaustion of water in the catchment areas, preventing other indigenous plants from growing.
Dr Hussein Haji, executive director of local agro-technology group SATG, said Algobra could be turned to people’s advantage:
“People don’t know what to do with it. Some are proposing to cut the tree and use it as charcoal.
The pods can be used as animal feed, but unfortunately the plant has sharp spines and it is not easy to harvest the pods. Cutting the tree and using it as charcoal is a way to slow down the spread of the tree and perhaps help reduce the cutting of acacia trees, which is generally used for charcoal.”