GOGOL-WANAAG, Somaliland — Sheikh Muhumed Dhinbil Cumar sits in a bit of shade chewing khat as he muses over how farming in his village has changed over recent generations. His father and his father before him — 12 or 13 generations of his family, he says — were all farmers in this area, with tenuous livelihoods subject to unpredictable rainfall and drought.
But thanks to Concern’s Farmer Field Schools, begun here in 2012, Cumar (60) has improved his ability to collect and manage rainwater and further diversified his crops. Today he is cultivating 50 percent more land than before the program began, pushing aside stingy acacia trees and defiant shrub brush to make room for citrus trees, grains and nuts on land he can now irrigate.
He is able to sell 90 percent of what he grows in the nearby city of Hargeisa, some 25 miles to the northeast, keeping the rest for household consumption. With this profit, he can send some of his 20 grandchildren to schools in the city, resulting in improved education not only for the family, but the 350-household-strong community of Gogol-wanaag.
“I want them to be able to do better than I have”
And now, for the first time, he believes he can fight back against nature itself in this harsh, semi-arid land. “If a drought happens,” he says with new confidence, “we will survive.”
This is no small thing in a country where agriculture and livestock are the economy’s backbone, accounting for an estimated 65 percent of Somaliland’s gross national product.
Somaliland, lying along the Gulf of Aden with a population of about 3.5 million, of which 55 percent are nomadic, declared its independence in May 1991 and has its own government and currency, though the international community views it as part of Somalia. Concern has worked here since 2010, with projects focused on food security and livelihoods.
In addition to helping establish 42 berkads in the village — cisterns lined with thick plastic to catch rainfall and runoff — Concern has also helped the farmers add crop variety, introducing groundnuts and cowpeas. Concern is supplying seeds and tools as well as training aimed at increasing food security by teaching farmers how to make best use of sandy soil.
As a sign of just how far Cumar has come since he was a subsistence farmer, he says he can dream of a future in which he improves his math and business skills and learns more about technology that can continue to help his farmland develop.
This sense of optimism and satisfaction was clear during a recent visit to this village to talk with some of the farmers and walk among their citrus trees.
Said Saleban Isse (36) began farming when he was 15 years old. He says his father grew only maize and sorghum. Now, though still dependent on rainwater like his father, he has learned to manage it better. He grows citrus such as oranges, mangoes and papayas, as well as drought-resistant crops like the cowpeas. “I’ve experienced a big change,” he said.
He says he can dream of a future in which he improves his math and business skills and learns more about technology that can continue to help his farmland develop.
He has two primary goals for the future. The first is to share what he has learned in the Farmer Field School by teaching others how to improve their crop yields, and he’s already started. “I have begun to transmit my knowledge to other villages nearby.”
The second is to send his two children, a girl and a boy, to better schools, so they can become engineers and doctors. “I want them to be able to do better than I have,” he said. “It is a matter of pride.”