Parasite tree in Bari drives farmers out of business

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Beeraleyda oo jaraya geedka/Sawir/Cabdiraxmaan Xaaji/Ergo

(ERGO) – Asli Hirsi Mohamed 60, who lives in Isku-Shuban village in Bari region of Northeastern Somalia, has been selling reeds and firewood to support her family since last year, after her three farms on the outskirts of her village were swamped by an invasive tree species ’prosopis juliflora’ –  locally known as Ali-Garoob.

Despite investing $5,000 in the hope of reaping a good harvest, Ms. Mohamed was left counting losses after her crops performed dismally. The seeds had been choked by Ali-Garoob, which is known to dominate and block the growth of other plants.

 With no more money left and a very small harvest which could not even meet her immediate family needs, Ms. Mohamed had to think of other options to support herself and her family. She decided to do away with farming and opt for something she had never done before for a living – collecting and selling firewood.

 “I collect firewood and harvest reeds and sell them to meet my daily needs and that of my family,” Ms. Mohamed said. “Initially, I used to get $3,000 from the harvests from my farms.”

 For Ms. Mohamed, a tree that was introduced into some arid regions in Kenya and Somalia to reverse deforestation has become a major threat to her livelihood and her dependents.

 Ali-Garoob is a drought tolerant tree and was introduced to mitigate the large-scale loss of ground vegetation cover in arid lands. It has grown out of control.

 The plant’s invasive nature means it dominates the vegetation choking other plants especially food crops.

 Livestock farmers have also complained that seeds from the tree affect the gums of animals and the teeth subsequently fall out. The thorns are also poisonous and can lead to amputation for livestock when their limbs are pierced.

 The chairperson of the association of Isku-Shuban farmers, Mohamud Farah Muse, said there are two wide streams that collect water from the highlands. The trees have grown and spread at the bottom of those streams and the seeds dispersed by floods.

 According to Mr. Muse, the invasive tree has spread to 45 farms over the last four years leading to crop failures and adverse food shortage in the locality. “We have 240 farms here and every farmer is lamenting the negative effects of this tree,” said Muse.

 Out of these farms, Muse added, 140 face an imminent threat from the tree which is fast spreading its cover.

 Muse, who has been living in Isku-Shuban since 1986, said French expatriates working on a Dates Project first introduced the tree to the area.

Abdikarim Huruse, an environmentalist, told Radio Ergo the tree cannot be directedly uprooted as it will interfere with the vegetation cover and lead to soil erosion.

But countries in the region including Kenya are now transforming the once invasive plant into a productive source of livelihoods. The tree is being used for fencing posts, charcoal, firewood and fodder for livestock. A solution made from its leaves and pods is said to have medicinal value.

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