Somaliland Farmers Learn Math, Reading, and Agricultural Skills

(NOTE: We believe this article is important and warrants publication because of its value highlighting the plight of East African farmers. GoodFood World does not endorse the use of conventional pesticides or the testing of genetically engineered seeds promoted by Monsanto. We are aware of the challenges in this part of the world and
we prescribe traditional organic and ecologically sensitive farming practices.)

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USAID Partnership for Economic Growth program, implementing partners and local farmers
are testing several seed varieties in Somaliland’s harsh weather and soil

Ferhan in Ruqi

Ferhan shows off his kale from his farm in Ruqi.

Ferhan, 33, was still a young man when he dropped out of school to help his father in the family’s fields. He quit the third grade and instead of learning to read and write, he learned to plow and harvest.

Ferhan’s father passed down traditional methods of agriculture to his son, techniques that Ferhan’s father had learned from his father. For example, in the Awdal region of Somaliland, when a farmer finds his crop infested with pests, he takes the first pesticide he comes across and applies it.

“My father didn’t have much understanding of pests and diseases. When he saw something strange, he sprayed it,” Ferhan explains.

Ferhan (center) stands with fellow farmers from Ruqi who are learning new techniques on the demonstration plot.

Ferhan (center) stands with fellow farmers from Ruqi who are learning new techniques on the demonstration plot.

When Ferhan’s father reached retirement, Ferhan inherited the five-hectare farm and supported his wife and three children by planting tomatoes, onions, peppers, and kale among other crops. Thanks to the groundwater supply and a nearby well, Ferhan and other farmers in the village of Ruqi can coax three harvests from the rocky soil every year.

In December 2011, USAID Partnership for Economic Growth program conducted a community discussion in Ruqi to get local farmers involved in an agriculture project in partnership with nearby Amoud University and the Somali Agricultural Technical Group (SATG).

The program has two goals: First, to test several varieties of seeds for six crops in order to find the best seed varieties suited for the Awdal region; second, to increase the farmers’ agricultural skills and identify gaps in their traditional farming methods.

“I was interested because I wanted to compare what they say with what I am doing. Plus I wanted to learn and develop new techniques,” he explains.

But before that could happen, Ferhan needed to gain a basic understanding for reading the Somali language. Before moving forward, Partnership for Economic Growth sponsored basic literacy and numeracy classes for the illiterate farmers in the group. The classes made Ferhan realize that basic reading skills were useful for drawing on Amoud University agricultural manuals as well as for selecting pesticides in the shops.

In February 2012, the Partnership program’s agriculture extension workers established three demonstration sites in the towns of Amoud, Ruqi and Baqi. Twenty-five local farmers from each town volunteered to participate, including Ferhan. Together, farmers and extension workers built shaded seed beds for several varieties of five crops including tomato, onion, hot pepper, lettuce, cabbage and watermelon.

A month later, the trainers and farmers met again and transplanted the seedlings into the ground. In the process, Ferhan learned about crop spacing, soil fertility, furrow planting, and crop rotation. After each session, Ferhan went home, thought about his crops and wrote down new ideas or applied the techniques to his gardens.

Jamas Garden near Amoud.

Jama’s garden near Amoud.

“First, I selected a better site for my nursery. This time in the shade and closer to my water source,” he says. “Before, I never measured the spaces between plants. I thought if I placed them closer together, I could get more land for more crops,” he explained.

When Ferhan recently spotted powdery mildew on his tomato plants, he immediately checked his agriculture manual and sent for the correct pesticide from the town of Borama. Now he keeps the manual in a safe place and consults it weekly.

In July 2012, the farmers harvested the demonstration site’s crops and took them to the market to sell, sharing the names of each variety with vendors and traders. By harvesting, transporting and selling the crops, the farmers and agricultural extension workers have a better idea about what varieties are best acclimated to the Awdal region’s heat and soil.

“These farmers sometimes buy seeds from far off places in the market. They don’t know if the seed is suitable for this climate or whether it will work. If we produce these seeds that have been tried and tested, we can give local farmers a guarantee for their crops,” explains Abdirashid Jama Abdullah, the project coordinator from Amoud University, located in nearby Borama.

By March 2013, the farmers will have gone through three harvest cycles at the demonstration site. Then together with the agriculture extension workers, the farmers will select the best seed varieties of each crop.

“We observe the crops in various seasons to factor in the change in temperatures throughout the year. Somaliland can be very hot in the summer,” Abdullah said.

Ferhan hopes to increase his yields and save enough money to expand his farm. He says that if he can increase his yields high enough, he can send some of his children to school in the city of Borama.

Jama and staff on his farm in Darey Mane

Jama and staff on his farm in Darey Mane.

Partnership for Economic Growth

Partnership for Economic Growth is a USAID-funded program that began working in Somaliland in 2011. The program partnered started by assessing the needs of small scale agriculturalists in the Borama region of Somaliland. In addition, the program strives to create opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses across many sectors including livestock and fishing. The program’s office is based in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

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2 comments to Somaliland Farmers Learn Math, Reading, and Agricultural Skills

  • Note to publisher: These farmers are definitely NOT using Monsanto seed varieties for their demo-plots! They are using local seed varieties of vegetables already being grown in Somaliland.

    • Thanks, Nico!

      The move for seed companies like Monsanto to spread their patented seed varieties into Africa present a big concern.

      It is good to know that these farmers are using local seed varieties.

      Gail N-K
      GoodFood World