(ERGO) – Ali Hassan Mohamed left behind his family of six with their last few sickly goats in the parched village of Yurkud, in southern Somalia’s drought-hit Gedo region, to find work on a lemon farm in Luq in February.
Ali, 28, lost 45 of his 60 goats in December 2020 due to the lack of pasture and water. The family’s two-hectare farm was destroyed by desert locusts in mid-2020 and there has not been enough rainfall since then to plant any more crops.
Without any other options, he took up a job harvesting, drying and packing lemons for export, earning $200 every three months. He supports his family in Yurkud, 30 km away, hoping the 15 remaining goats will survive.
“I send them some money that I get as an advance from my employer. Their life is gradually getting back to normal. It is not as it was when I left them,” said Ali.
Lemon farmers along the banks of the river Juba, about 14 km from Luq town, dry the fruit in the sun before exporting it to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where it is used in perfumes. The drying takes six months every year. The fruit trees are irrigated using water from Juba river, but when the river water drops they rely on nearby wells.
Ali is among more than 100 pastoralist men who have flocked to Luq district from other parts of Gedo and Bakool region, since the start of the year. They get food and shelter as well as a daily wage.
Kasim Guled Ahmed left Washaqo village in Bakool after losing 90 goats to drought. His family is now left with 20 cows in poor condition.
He reached Luq in January, working first as a broker in the livestock market for six weeks before moving to a better paid job on the lemon farms.
Kasim chose to receive his wages daily, earning two and a half dollars for each nine-hour working day.
“My family can afford food and water now, which was not the case when I left Bakool,” said Kasim.
He said he and 13 other men from Washaqo were there supporting their families through the hard dry season.
Abdifatah Abdullahi has been in the dried lemons export business for seven years. He told Radio Ergo that for the first time 22 of his 86 workers were migrant pastoralists.
“They came to the town in search of a better life because there is a severe lack of pasture for their livestock, and we have welcomed them,” said Abdifatah.
He said lemon farmers had taken on more workers recently to help protect the lemon trees from locust invasions.