FOREST SITUATION IN SOMALIA
Mr. Yusuf Mohamed Hussein
Mogadishu Forestry Association
Mr. Mohamed Dahir Abdi
The total land area of Somalia is 638,000 km2, of which 31% is suitable for cultivation and 45% for livestock raising. The coastline is approximately 3,333 km.
Somalia is located in an arid and semi arid zone characterised by erratic rainfall patterns (average annual rainfall between 300 - 500 mm). The highest amount of rainfall is received in the north-west region and Awdal, where rainfed agriculture is primarily practised. The rest of the regions have small scale farming cultivation. However, the remaining bulk of the country favours the growth of pasture and natural vegetation that is suitable for livestock grazing. For this reason, the majority of the country is classified as rangelands.
As human and livestock numbers have gradually increased, the need of other sources of natural resources for the production of crops, fuelwood, charcoal, and fodder has increased. Competition for limited resources happens in the form of land encroachment among nomadic pastoralist, agro-pastoralist, and farmers occurring in most rural areas. Land misuse has led to widespread environmental degradation, including severe overgrazing, deforestation, excessive soil erosion and substantial reduction of vegetation cover. Large areas of forest were either cleared for the purpose of farming or chopped down. Communal grazing areas have been turned into large enclosures by some agro-pastoralists and farmers. This caused frequent conflicts among communities living in the same area. This problem has become an important issue subject to national debate.
The population of Somalia was estimated in 1986 to be 8.5 million. Population density is 13.3 persons per km2. The distribution of population is as follows: 24% urban, 31% rural, 45% nomadic. The average birth rate is 4.4% while the death rate is 3.5% (1991). Before 1991 the death rate was 1.3%. This gives an estimated average rate of the national population of 2.3%. The estimated life expectancy is 53 years for urban and 46 years for nomads.
Somalis are traditionally nomadic, although currently sedentary, one of the main activities is animal rearing (camels, goats, cattle and sheep).
Most of the people depend on rainfall for growing sorghum and mellit (to a lesser extent) on small land plots near the villages. Few people have access to large areas. Vegetables, bananas etc. are only grown in gardens along the river. Some villages grow vegetables during the rain season (like Bay & Bakool regions on a limited scale). Many people work in the agricultural sector as labourers. Most of the young people leave their villages during the off-season to work in the towns.
Realising the economic importance of livestock for the livelihood of the pastoralists as a source of food and income and their substantial contribution to the economy of the country, the Northern Administration has created a separate institution to deal with environmental matters. The Department of Rural Development and Environment became active in early 1997. Considering the extent of the existing environmental abuses, the Ministry has initiated efforts to restore the existing forest reserves, grazing reserves, nurseries and water points. During the civil war all public infrastructure was destroyed. Thus, it is difficult to obtain any records that could be used as baseline data.
1.2. Physical Environment
There are two permanent rivers in the country (the Juba river and Shabelle river). The length of the Juba river is 800km and the Shabelle river is 1,100 km. The Juba catchment area is 275,000 km2 and the Shabelle 300,000 km2.
Soil: Soil moisture is erratic and generally immature due to frequent soil movement by wind and water. The most common soils are pale coloured silt to silty coloured clays with varying percentages of gypsum and carbonates. The second soil is silt sand with high carbonate content. The third soil type is found in the southern area known as "Haud" and it is very dark red silty sand and contains no carbonates.
Vegetation: The general arid climate of the country determines the type of vegetation occurring in a particular area. Water is the most limiting factor for vegetation cover and composition. The different vegetation types are as follows:
Acacia Bussei Woodland: Characterised by the openly spaced Acacia bussei locally known as Galool associated with A. Mellifera (Belil), Acacia nilotic (Mara) along waterways, and Acacia tortiles (guda) in depressions. Boscia Minifolia (Meggag) which is highly palatable to camels is also a very important member of the vegetation of the zone. Grewia sp (Defarur) are also found in the zone. Grewia has an edible nut used by the nomads for food. Acacia Bussei (galool) is in a declining situation as it is used for the production of charcoal and the making of household items from bark, fibre, branches and roots (i.e. all parts of the tree). Moreover, charcoal producers selected this tree as the sole producer of good quality charcoal. Therefore, A. Bussei is nearly extinct and needs action urgently.
Treeless Plains: Within the main woodland zones, there are several treeless plains known as "Bunas". These are normally man made. The common vegetation of these plains is mainly gramineae family and include chrysosogon ancheri (Daremo), Dactylocetenium scindicum (Saddexo), cenchrus ciliaris (Baldole) and Soropolus Variegatus (Dixi) and cyndon dactylion in the depressions.
Acacia Etbaica (Sog) Zone: The next zone up the plateau towards the escarpment is the Acacia Etbaica zone and is an invader taking over lower parts of the mountain zone. Acetbaica (a tree 2- 4m high) there is seldom any other species, but has grass undergrowth and occurs on a variety of soils. This zone has probably suffered more than any other zone from heavy use and subsequent erosion. The result is profuse growth of Aloe Magelacanthe (Diar). There are few shrubs or herbs. Some very persistent grasses have remained among the aloes where they are protected form grazing and include cenchrus ciliari, sporopolus spp. and Eragrostis spp. interspersed in this zone are zizyphus mauritania (Gob), Ac.tortiles and solanum incanum. (Kariir)
Climate: The rainy season has two peaks: April - June is the most important part of the rainy season, known as "Gu" and is brought by the south-west monsoon which blows during this period. This season is followed by a period of less rain, but wind that reaches its peak in July and is locally known as "Haga". These winds have serious desiccating effects on vegetation that is critical for annual crop production. The second rainy season is known as the "Deyr" (autumn) which falls between mid September and October. This is very important for the recovery for crops damaged during the preceding dry season. November to mid-March is the longest dry season, locally known as "Jilal" (winter) and is the most critical period during which the people and livestock move to coastal and inland areas where water and pasture is available.
1.3. Background History
A comprehensive overview of the natural resources of Somalia was carried out in the years 1946 and 1950 by the British Colonial government. Botanical collections were made and several new species of trees and shrubs were identified. Detailed vegetation maps were drawn, (Gillet, 1941; Glover, 1946, Gilliland, 1946). Although these reports are not easily available and out of date, it has shown the existences of severe degradation in most surveyed areas. At present, it is widely believed that the woodland over a large are of the country is declining, both in terms of area and species composition. The Juniperus procera found in Dallo Mountain of Erigavo is a good example of this.
The Ministry amended Law No. 15 on 25 January 1969 (Law of Flora and Fauna);
Prepared a programme of land demarcation and classification between rangelands and agriculture;
Restored most existing forest and range reserves;
In collaboration with IUCN, the Ministry will initiate a two-year programme of woodlots Conservation and Land use Planning; and
Encouraged private entrepreneurs to import cooking stoves so as to minimise burning of trees for charcoal.
2. Forestry Resources
In all forestry projects it must be guaranteed that the objectives are in accordance with long-term government development, objectives and priorities. These priorities must stress the need to off-set adverse economic, social and ecological imbalances in the arid and semi-arid regions by fighting desertification through afforestation and reforestation, land management and pasture rehabilitation.
The importance of the forestry sector stems from the fact that it provides the main source of household energy and home construction materials for the bulk of the population. The main forest products are firewood and charcoal for household energy, roundwood, small poles and brush-bundles for dwelling construction. In addition there are other commercially valuable forest trees that produce frankincense, myrrh, gum arable, seeds and a variety of nuts. Therefore, the supply on a sustainable basis of domestic household energy to almost the whole of the rural and urban population is the most important forestry issue in Somalia today.
Estimates of the forest resources in Somalia vary greatly according to reports: from 9 million ha (FAO 1981) to 39 million ha (Openshow, 1982) but the idea behind this discrepancy depends on the purpose of the forest uses. If forecasts are to be used only for timber production then only a very tiny area of the country can be considered as a true forest. On the other hand, if firewood, charcoal, browsing and construction materials are considered as the major products of the forestry sector, then the forest area is larger. The open Acacia commiphora bushland is the main type of Somali vegetation. These forests make some 52,000ha of dense forest and 7.4 million ha of woodlands of which 5.7 million has low vegetation coverage.
Table 1. Forest area in Somalia by type (1980)
Total Land (km2)
Total forest area
Total land area
(Source: Openshow 1982)
Four existing forest types:
Northern juniper zone located in the high altitude areas of the Golis range;
Negligible remains of gallery forest extending about 100m at each side of the two rivers;
Lowland evergreen dry forest to the south of the Juba river representative of a more humid vegetation; and
Very small depleted area of mangroves around the outlet of the Juba river.
3. FOREST POLICY
Prior to the civil war, government strategies and policies in the forestry sector presented in the current FYDP (1987-1991) had the objectives to ensure a constant and adequate supply of the forestry products and promote the active public participation in conservation and reforestation efforts. The development plan indicated the following urgent needs:
To conduct surveys and studies of potential forest resources and to understand the problems and constraints of forestry development;
To encourage public involvement and participation on forestry conservation and development interventions; and
To conduct research and field demonstration such as trails of forest tree species.
The major trust of the above strategy was to promote community participation in forest activities. The plan emphasises on conservation, reforestation, institutional building, training and research. The main activities are sand dune fixation, shelterbelt and windbreak plantations and training.
4. FORESTRY ACTIVITIES IN SOMALIA
During the early 1950s the first forest-programming endeavour began in the northern part of the country. It was in response to the concerns about the extent of soil erosion evident in the area. It became instrumental to the establishment of the Forestry Department in 1952. The main achievement of the Forestry Department was the creation of several forest reserves over an area of approximately 384,000ha. Unfortunately, efforts to manage and protect these reserves have largely failed due to the lack of resources. Although the need for the Forestry Department had been identified in the north, no forestry activities were conducted during the Italian administration in the south. However, some tree planting was carried out on several agricultural areas along the two rivers, Juba and Shabelle.
Low level forestry activities continued during the 1960s and early 1970s, but in 1976 the former Government created the National Range Agency under the Ministry of Livestock, Forestry and Range, to develop conservation and management of renewable natural resources. Before the civil war, the forestry projects in Somalia were:
Forestry Sector support Training Project;
Forestry Development and Strengthening of forestry department;
Sand-dune Fixation Projects at Addale, Brava, and Shalanbood;
Coastal Afforestation and Agroforestry Project;
National Woodstove Programme Project; and
Tropical Forestry Action Plan and two wildlife Projects under the department of wildlife (NRA)
5. PROJECT PLANNING
There are two main forestry sectoral planning programmes:
There are continuous processes of sectoral studies and reviews which are either formulated mainly by the assistance of consultants or foreign experts. Forestry sector reviews and studies are conducted to identify the problems and potentials of the forestry resources development and ultimately to lead project identification; and
Another possibility is that the planning lies within the framework of national development plans in which policies and objectives of forestry sector are indicated. In this case, a sectoral ministry develops plans and policies that are parallel with national development goals.
Reforestation programmes, tree-planting activities, conservation measures such as sand dune fixation activities, and institutional building are priority areas in most of the development plans.
6. PROBLEM CONTEXT
Recently the country has been subject to intensive and irrational forest exploitation such as Bay, Bakool and Gedo regions, and part of Lower/Middle Shabelle regions. Tree cutting is done for agricultural, firewood and charcoal, fencing and building materials. The elder part of the population have said that formally their area was forested, but now the land has developed into a desert. The lack of trees within and outside of the villages are a striking feature of the area. Consequently, this has been followed by hazards of soil erosion, drought and decline of soil fertility.
Presently, the people are experiencing the following problems:
Ecological disturbance and lack of shade and shelter belt for both people and animals;
Deterioration of range-lands and insufficient fodder leading to low production of milk and meat;
Declined crops yield due to shortage of rains, soil erosion and declined soil fertility;
Lack of building and fencing materials; and
Lack of woodfuels, or woodfuels at long distance from villages.
However, the people have adapted to the situation by using attentive fuels such as agricultural residues and animal dung. Thus, the people of the country depend totally on firewood and charcoal as main sources of fuel for cooking.
Some trees like Acacia bussy, Acacia toreros, Acacia Senegal, Acacia semi-fare and many other Acacia species have disappeared.
7. FOREST PRODUCTION
The following forestry production projects existed before the war:
The Bay Region Forest Management Project
This project only went as far as the formulation stage before security difficulties in Somalia forced its indefinite deferral. It was formulated on the basis of knowledge acquired during a previous ODA project in the same area which took inventory of the woodland from which Mogadishu's charcoal supplies had been coming. In the course of interviewing farmers and herders about the charcoal cutters and the problems they were causing, ideas for a new project, giving the local people more right to manage the woodland were discussed and ultimately re-formulated.
Soumel Factory in Eregavo Project
This factory situated in Eragavo, Sanag region, was producing timber of juniper processor. Its products were exported to neighbouring Arab countries. This small factory was built during the colonial times, but stopped its activities when the civil war began. If it is revived, it will be of great importance to the national earning of foreign currencies and to create employment opportunities.
8. CURRENT SITUATION OF SOMALi FORESTS
8.1. Woodfuel Dynamics
Fuelwood meets 90% of the energy requirements of Somalia. This causes high demands on limited wood resources and demand has increased through increased settlements, urbanisation, growth of human population, and recently an increase in export to Djibouti and Gulf States. Thus, charcoal has become a high value income generator for poor households.
The result has been severe deforestation adjacent to urban areas and areas close to major road networks. Conversion of wood resources to charcoal with conversion rates ranging around 20%. According to study surveys by (SORRA) it was found that Borama used 18,000 tons of charcoal/fuelwood per year equivalent to 150,000 tons, (5 million trees/year).
Acc. Bussei, a hard wood, is the preferred species for charcoal production. However, due to limited supply, other acacia species are now being used reflecting the gradual decrease in wood resources. Deforestation is contributing to severe land deterioration, loss of biodiversity, will finally lead to increased prices. The lack of alternative sources of household energy as kerosene, biogas, and solar maintain high demand for fuelwood. The introduction and adoption of kerosene could serve to decrease charcoal consumption except the initial investment was high, kerosene is expensive and household perspectives are negative towards kerosene. This needs extension and training at household level through the Ministry of Rural Development and women's organisations.
Wild ass and Dibata antelopes are largely threatened by civil war disturbances. Finally, we are recommending the establishment of natural resources management action plans at community level.
8.3. Forest Resources
Occurrence of the natural forests is limited to an area of approximately 68,000 km2 in the mountainous regions - "Golis range". The dominaril forest species are Juniper Sp and Boswalia species. There are also natural woodlands in "Haud" dominated by Acacia sp. Due to civil war and lack of protection, forests are in danger. Somalis cut trees for woodfuel and even export to neighbouring countries such as Yemen. There is no accurate data on assessment of forests inventory. Also the scale of destruction of forests are enormous.
8.4. Forest Policy, Legislation and Institutions
Law no. 15 of Conservation of Flora and Fauna was issued by former Somali State. This law states that protection of the natural forests by the government institutions namely National Range Agency - NRA. The NRA was a specialised parastatal agency for conservation of the rangelands and forests which are the natural assets of the country. Its policies include: full community participation, utilisation, conservation, preservation and management of the natural forest reserves.