Farmers in southwestern Somalia’s Afgoye, in Lower Shabelle region, have been cutting down their lemon orchards because they are unable to sell the fruit at a profitable price.
Abukar Haji Osman, a father with two families of 16 people, has been growing lemons as a cash crop for the last 20 years.
“I have cut down 812 lemon trees on my 13 hectare farm,” he declared. “There were too many lemons and there was no market. I decided to plant other crops that will earn me a decent income.”
Abukar has planted maize, pumpkins and beans on the eight hectares where he has cleared his lemon trees. On the other five hectares he is cultivating various vegetables.
A half barrel of lemons that used to sell for $30 two years ago has been selling for a pitiful $3 recently. Farmers say they are no longer able to pay their workers nor the fuel bills for irrigation systems for the orchards.
Mohamed Abdullahi has been exporting lemons to Yemen and Iraq since 2009. Both those markets have collapsed due to wars.
“I have 2,000 bags of dried lemons that have been in my store for more than 10 months. We have nowhere to sell them,” Mohamed said.
“I used to have 40 workers involved in drying and transportation, and I exported 500 tons of lemons per year. After paying the expenses I made $25,000 to $30,000 but now I have not exported anything so I have released all the workers.”
Said Yusuf Mohamed, an economist and lecturer in social economics at Sahan Institute in Afgoye, said the farmers faced a difficult future.
“Thousands of hectares have been planted with lemon trees. It will have an impact on people’s income and local employment. The farmers will have many challenges in cutting down the lemon trees and switching to other crops because this needs a lot of financial input and recovering income will take some time,” said Mohamed.
There were around 400 people employed on farms drying lemons and preparing them for export. They have all lost their jobs.
Hassan Omar Maalim, the chairman of the Afgoye farmers’ cooperative association, said that 900 hectares of lemon trees have been cut down in the past three months and more are yet to be cut.