The New York Times, July 25, 2002
Before it ends up in a grill somewhere in the Middle East, searing lamb or beef, Somalia's ''black gold'' travels a perilous road from acacia forests in rural areas to one of the country's busy ports.
Charcoal is perhaps the biggest export of this rugged country, so collapsed that statistics are among the many things hard to come by. Once, acacias covered vast swaths of Somalia's south and central regions; today, the forests are devastated. Despite an official ban on the export of charcoal, truckloads of it clog the dangerous roads to port bound for Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates.
''Because of the lack of a central authority, illegal deforestation has become big business,'' said Abdulkadi Yahya Ali, director of operations at the Center for Research and Dialogue in Mogadishu. ''It's a lucrative way for gangs to make money. They are making money from the collapse of a state.''
Abukar Abdi Osman, the environmental minister for the makeshift government in Mogadishu, declared an end to charcoal exports when he took office this year. His predecessor had done the same thing last year, to little avail.
''It's not good for the country,'' Mr. Osman declared. ''We now have sand covering areas where there used to be forests, and there is less ground for livestock to graze.''
The minister, member of a government whose control does not even extend throughout the capital, has resorted to taxing charcoal shipments, a step that he says will eventually allow him to seize the trucks and ships that carry charcoal and arrest the dealers getting rich from it.
As it is now, Mogadishu's main charcoal market operates less than a mile from the hotel that Mr. Osman uses as his offices. The market is a grimy place, where Somalis born with dark brown skin turn completely black during the workday from the dusk of the coal.
The workers separate large shards, which will bring top dollar, from the tiny pieces. And they load truck after truck, often piling the charcoal so high that the bumpy roads inevitably cause bits of black gold to fall to the road.
To turn trees into charcoal, workers dig a huge pit, bury the wood and set it ablaze, but only limited oxygen is allowed into the fire. What results are shards of charcoal.
The charcoal trade is one of many assaults on Somalia's environment. Toxic wastes were dumped into many rivers years ago by foreign companies unafraid of government regulators. Wildlife, once plentiful in Somalia, has been killed with such abandon that there is believed to be relatively little left. But Mr. Osman's crew of six, charged with monitoring a country about the size of Texas, is barely able to identify the extent of the environmental devastation, never mind do anything about it.
The former government of Said Barre, which fell in a coup in 1991, had banned the export of charcoal, and imposed stiff enough penalties on violators that few made a living off the trade.
Even in the early days of Somalia's descent into chaos, when Gen. Muhammad Farah Aideed controlled parts of the south of the country in the early 1990's, he continued to ban logging.
But after he died in 1996 and his son, Hussein Muhammad Aideed, replaced him, charcoal exports soared, driven by the simple logic of economics: a bag of charcoal that sells in markets here for $4 fetches $10 or more in Arab countries that have banned their own production of charcoal for environmental reasons.
A decade ago, the United Nations estimated that 14 percent of Somalia was covered with woodland. Some experts say that figure may now be as low as 4 percent. As for charcoal production, the United Nations estimates that 112,000 metric tons were produced in 2000, of which 80 percent went abroad. Exports of charcoal may have overtaken those of bananas, once a major source of foreign currency for Somalia.
Livestock exports have long been hindered by a ban imposed by various Arab countries on camels, sheep, goats and cattle, ostensibly because of concerns over animal health. So, instead, Somalia sells the charcoal with which Arabs grill their meat.
Somalia is rugged, with little arable land. It is believed to be rich in iron ore, tin, bauxite and uranium, perhaps even in petroleum and natural gas reserves.
For now, though, charcoal is Somalia's only precious material, and it allows thousands of low-paid laborers to make a living.
''It's very dangerous, but it's how I survive,'' said Hassan Ali Farah, showing a stump where his left thumb used to be, chopped off in an ax accident, and a nasty burn on his chest, the result of a charcoal fire that went awry.
Another danger that workers like Mr. Farah face are the land mines scattered through the Somali countryside in years of war.
Most of the charcoal profits go to the traders and the faction leaders who control access to the forests. To these men, environmental damage is of secondary concern.
''It's one of the main businesses in the country,'' said Ali Gulied Mahed, 58, a middleman who was standing beside several dozen fully loaded trucks at Mogadishu's main charcoal market.
To men like him, the economics are simple: the trees are free and the labor is cheap. A ship laden with 100,000 sacks of ''black gold'' has $1 million in cargo, a haul that is typically traded for the many goods that Somalia lacks.
Although most of Somalia's charcoal is sent overseas, it remains the main cooking fuel for Somalis. Throughout the country's previous export bans, local use has always been permitted.
But in the past, axes were used to fell the trees. Now that charcoal has become a big business, forests buzz with the sound of chain saws.
''The charcoal problem is really a symptom of the far greater problems we're facing,'' said Mr. Ali of the Somali research institute. ''These are armed, irresponsible guys who are ruining the land because they want to eat.''
Restricted by their own laws on charcoal production and deforestation, Arab states have taken full advantage of lawless Somalia for supplies.
MOGADISHU, 6 November 2006 (IRIN) - When the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) first came to power in June, it was applauded for issuing an official ban on the export of charcoal. But within two months, exports of charcoal resumed. Now, the huge volume of trade in charcoal is clearly visible on the streets of Mogadishu, with long convoys of up to 20 or more heavily-loaded charcoal trucks moving along the roads or lined up on the outskirts of the city. Towers of grimy sacks are piled along the streets. The trade in ‘black gold’ is booming.
The period since the collapse of Somalia’s central government in 1991 has coincided with a voracious demand for charcoal in the Arab States, particularly Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Restricted by their own laws on charcoal production and deforestation, countries in the Arab States have taken full advantage of lawless Somalia.
Exports of charcoal were temporarily slowed in the mid-1990s when the faction leader in charge of Mogadishu and its port, General Mohamed Farah Aydid, imposed some restrictions on exports. However, following his death, competing factional leaders have openly exploited and encouraged the trade.
As the UIC began to take control of security in various areas of southern Somalia from 2000, some local leaders made attempts to contain the devastation. As early as July 2000, a circular signed by Tahlil Mahmud Ibrahim, representative of the Islamic courts of Shabelaha Hoose Region, southern Somalia, banned the cutting of trees, threatening strict punishment under Shari’a law.
But charcoal remained available and profitable, throughout the factional conflicts. It has become a critical component of the Somali economy – and is difficult to halt.
In Mogadishu, the continuation of charcoal exports is said to be due to traders pressuring the UIC to allow them to finish exporting existing stocks, already committed to export. But there is concern that this is being used as a loophole.
"If the UIC were genuinely committed to the ban and not under pressure from the business community, then they would have issued another official statement to end the confusion," said one Mogadishu resident.
In Kismayo – the epicentre of the charcoal trade – the official message is more mixed. Just after Kismayo was taken, the local media ran a statement from a UIC representative which said that charcoal exports had not been stopped.
According to Abdulkadir Shirwa, a civil society activist in Mogadishu, the charcoal trade in Somalia is 'a dangerous game'. It has attracted a lot of attention over the last few years. In the absence of unified authority, Somalia has become one of the few countries in the world without restrictions on mass deforestation and environmental devastation. Hundreds of kilometres of brush and forest have been turned into desert, particularly around Kismayo and in the Juba area.
"This is not a few men with axes making charcoal for local consumption, but large-scale mechanised machine-cutting, which targets an area over a couple of days to lay to waste, and burn," says Shirwa.
Local traders, using small, labour intensive methods with axes and machetes, are more likely to operate in the Bay, Hiraan and Galgadud region.
Small-scale traders, like the exporters, know that the charcoal trade is riddled with controversy. Charcoal trader, Miriam Mohamed Ali, agreed to talk to IRIN while safely hidden among her sacks of charcoal in downtown Mogadishu. She is the sole provider for five children and her husband, and has been trading charcoal for 17 years.
"We get the charcoal from the countryside. Some people bring it here and we buy it and we resell to get some profit – but it is just for survival."
Because of the improved security since the takeover in June, Miriam says business is better and women feel safer. She says gunmen used to steal or extort money at road blocks, and women were vulnerable to rape. Now, profits have increased because public transport is cheaper without the road blocks.
Miriam told IRIN that as long as security was maintained in Mogadishu, she would be willing to find other ways to make money. "If they say stop, we will stop because what we want more than anything else is security. I would do any business to support my family."
This is Somalia's black gold. Charcoal has become big business in a country where, over the last decade, there have been no restrictions or regulations in the absence of a central government. "This is one of the worst things happening in Somalia and we will pay a very high price for desertification in the future," Somali agronomist Abdulkadir Shirwa told IRIN.
Vast areas of bush have been depleted to feed an enormous appetite for charcoal in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. The Arab states - where restrictions to prevent domestic desertification are strictly in place - have taken full advantage of Somalia's lawless condition. "It's an immoral trade done in the full knowledge of what the consequences are for Somalia", diplomatic sources said.
Apart from charcoal, illegal fishing, hunting, copper-mining and the dumping of industrial waste are all abuses of the environment that have gone unchecked in Somalia for nearly a decade, diplomatic and political sources told IRIN.
Charcoal is made by chopping down trees, setting fire to a closely stacked pile of branches and trunks, and covering it with earth so that the amount of oxygen and air is limited. This transforms a process that would otherwise take years to achieve naturally.
Traditionally, the making of charcoal was limited to a small group of cutters who used hand axes and responded to an internal - and very localised - demand. Most Somali households use it for cooking. But since charcoal became a lucrative export trade to the Arab states, businessmen and environmentalists say battery-powered chain saws have been introduced. According to Shirwa, who works for USAid-Famine Early Warning System (FEWS), cutting has spread beyond specialised groups and been taken up by the major clans.
In the absence of government, "there is no documentation of the volumes being exported or the amount of trees being cut down", he said.
Most of the charcoal is made in southern Somalia, between Brava and Kismayo. Much of southern Somalia is typically sparse savannah with few forested areas, apart from around the Sakow area which has large trees. But Jilib near Kismayo and Brava have areas of thick vegetation, some too dense for livestock to pass. More than 80 percent of the trees used for charcoal are types of Acacia.
Most of the charcoal is made in southern Somalia, between Brava and Kismayo
A trader in Mogadishu told IRIN about his suppliers. "They cut the trees, burn it and bring it on trucks ready for use in Mogadishu... most of it comes from Wanla-wein, Bur Hakaba, and from around Jowhar, Gal jeel country." He said bags of charcoal were bought from the suppliers, which then had to be taken to a port. "A lot of money goes on transportation to the El Mayan port in Mogadishu. The port charges you a fee, then the ones who take it out to the ship charge you a fee. That's after the road blocks, as well. It becomes very expensive by the time we load it."
Nevertheless, the profits are significant. A bag that costs about 35,000 Somali shillings a bag in Somalia (about US $3-4 dollars) sells for about $10 in the Gulf states, said traders. "Normally a ship takes about 70-100,000 bags," a trader told IRIN, which takes about two months to put together.
Purchasing charcoal for export is more expensive for traders during the rainy season, but during the dry season. "You buy a whole truck load and it will be two hundred bags at 3,300 Somali shillings (about US $3-4 dollars)," explained one Mogadishu trader. He said charcoal was sold in "an unusual way" in that it sold by the bag - instead of by weight - and that the price varies according to the weather.
Charcoal only became very profitable as an export trade in 1997 after the death of former Mogadishu faction leader, General Muhammad Farah Aydid. From 1991 to 1996, during which time he exerted control over southern Mogadishu and areas of southern Somalia, General Aydid banned the export of charcoal because of its environmental consequences. After his death in a shoot-out in south Mogadishu, control was passed to his son, Husayn Muhammad Aydid, a former US marine (see http://www.reliefweb.int/IRIN/cea/countrystories/somalia/20001006.phtml for interview).
The younger Aydid imposed no such restrictions and his area of control was considerably reduced.
After 1996, some local administrations tried to halt the cutters. In Dusa Mareb, Galgadud, central Somalia, chiefs and clan elders prohibited charcoal cutting in certain areas in 1997; but it led to conflict. "People were caught cutting and shot at, there were deaths, and it started wars", said Shirwa, who was in the region doing research at the time. Negotiations between elders and chiefs were needed to settle and pay 'Al Dia' (blood money).
According to Mogadishu businessmen, charcoal exported from the southern port of Kismayo is of better quality than that shipped out of the rudimentary beach ports in Mogadishu. "The best quality comes from Kismayo for the simple reason it goes from the lorry directly into the ship, from a normal port. Here, we have to dump it into a boat, dump it again into the big ship, and by the time it gets to Saudi Arabia, it is broken down, and in small pieces", one trader told IRIN. With a decade of inter-clan fighting in Mogadishu, the port has been closed and run down.
Kismayo is the major port for charcoal export, and far exceeds what goes out of Mogadishu - although there is no systematic documentation of volume and frequency. Clan control of the Kismayo has been unpredictable since the collapse of central government in 1991, and so not all businessmen can use the port. Charcoal is also shipped out of Bosasso port, in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, northeastern Somalia.
There is a wariness among the big traders to talk about the charcoal business, and - like any other black market trade - the Mogadishu charcoal mafia must pay not only in terms of money, but also lives. Militia men and drivers have been shot at the road blocks, and trucks trying to deliver the load to the beach port have sparked off fire-fights and inter-clan conflicts
"Charcoal plays an important role in both the energy and the economies of most African countries....(and)...place a heavy strain on local wood resources". Most of the main charcoal traders out of Mogadishu take advantage of the shipments to do more business: "when we take the charcoal to the Gulf States we normally don't come back with money, but buy up sugar, flour, or whatever the local market needs," one trader told IRIN.
The highest price will be the long-term effect in desertification; but the traders laugh this off. "I remember as a child watching the cutters chop down trees in my area, and if you go back there now to the same place, the trees are even bigger than they used to be", declared one trader. "There will be no shortage of charcoal."
"Charcoal plays an important role in both the energy and the economies of most African countries....(and)...place a heavy strain on local wood resources. This in turn has severe environmental consequences" warns the Energy Practice Management Office (EPMO), which works in conjunction with the World Bank. In a publication issued in 1995, the EPMO said the demand for charcoal was increasing and warns that international organisations and planners should hope fuel "substitution takes place before wood resources run out".
"I don't think anyone yet grasps just how bad the damage has been in Somalia," Shirwa told IRIN.
An assessment of charcoal production between 1997 and 2002 was carried out by the Ministry of Pastoralism and the Environment in Somaliland, focusing on three urban towns: Hargeisa, Berbera and Burao. In Hargeisa, production had increased from around 100 to over 1000 metric tons during these five years - far beyond sustainable levels.
According to a new report by Mahdi Kayad, Livestock Officer of the Somalia-based agency Food Security Assessment Unit (FSAU), the increased wood fuel and charcoal production is now having an impact on the environment and livelihoods in Somaliland and Somalia.
Until, the late 1950's it appears that the production of wood fuel and charcoal had little noted impact on the environment. Mr Kayad notes. This however changed in the 1960's when the increasing growth of populations in urban areas and the accompanying demand for energy, combined with charcoal exports, meant deforestation was occurring at an alarming rate.
As a result, between 1969 and 1991 the Somali government banned charcoal exportation. With the subsequent collapse of the government, charcoal production and burning re-commenced at ever more destructive rates. In Somalia proper, production is only increasing, but in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, government is aiming at regulating the industry.
- Charcoal is produced from the acacia Bussei hardwood tree and is found in high densities in Sanag, Sool, Bari, Togdheer, Galbeed, Bay and Bakol, according to the FSAU report. In the short term, cutting down trees removes valuable fodder and forest products from the livestock sector, decreases wildlife habitats, increases soil erosion and causes hardship to local people who depend on trees for a multitude of traditional purposes.
Long term effects of charcoal production, the report says, include the eventual depletion of reserves, energy deficits and high fuel prices. In many arid countries across Africa, therefore, the production and trade of especially charcoal is strictly regulated or even outlawed.
Recognising the negative impact on the environment, the Puntland administration has recently banned the export of charcoal to the Gulf States and the Somaliland administration is considering new regulations to put an end to charcoal production. This has however increased conflict between those who depend on charcoal to sustain their livelihoods and those who depend on range resources for other uses.
The new survey presented by the Somaliland government on charcoal production in Hargeisa, Berbera and Burao shows that the production in the three towns has increased for the following reasons: urban populations have grown, increasing the demand; charcoal production has become a common income option for rural communities; the price of coal has increased; and there are no effective controls in place to protect the environment from deforestation.
As a result, the government is now to consider whether to follow other African countries and prohibit the production altogether.
FSAU however advises the Somaliland government to start with solutions less harmful to the large groups living from charcoal production. Possible ideas to address the impact of the wood fuel and charcoal industry on the environment include improving the efficiency of charcoal production, for example by including fuel-wood trees in agro-forestry planning, the agency says.
The Somaliland authorities were further advised to improve efficiency of charcoal and fuel-wood use - for example through improved stoves and education - and to provide alternative sources of energy especially those that are competitive in price, such as kerosene, coal, biogas, solar gas and other natural gases.
NAIROBI, 23 August 2006 (IRIN) - The Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which controls the capital, Mogadishu, and much of south and central Somalia, issued a directive on Tuesday banning exports of charcoal and rare birds and animals, an official told IRIN.
The Executive Committee of the UIC issued the directive after a full committee meeting agreed to the ban, Sheikh Abdulkadir Ali Omar, the UIC Vice-Chairman, said. "The decision was reached after the committee was briefed on the dangers posed by the indiscriminate cutting of our trees," he said.
The directive had been sent to all involved in the charcoal trade, and "will be enforced in all areas under UIC control", he added.
The directive was welcomed by most Somalis, according to Abdulkadir Ibrahim Ga'al, 'Abkow', head of Civil Society in Action, an umbrella organisation that brings together 12 civil society groups.
"This is a long overdue and positive step. It is indeed welcome," Abkow said.
Abkow said at the current rate of decimation, "there will be no trees left in Somalia", adding: "They are now cutting mango trees, because their customers prefer the smell of the mango charcoal."
He said that 70 percent of the trade passed through Mogadishu and the rest through the southern port city of Kismayo, 500 km south of the capital.
Almost all the charcoal goes to the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, where a bag fetches about US $15, Somali business sources told IRIN.
The UIC will seek assistance from all quarters to solicit their support in stopping this trade. "This is killing our country and it must stop now before it is too late," said Omar.
The directive comes into effect today (23 August) and the committee warned that anyone caught dealing in charcoal after that date would face the full force of the law.
Omar warned foreign ships coming to Somalia to take on charcoal that they risk arrest, a fine or both if they are caught.
The directive also imposes a ban on trade in wildlife and rare species of birds, said Omar.
"There is a brisk trade in falcons, hawks, eland and dik-diks, and many other species, to the Gulf States," said Abkow.
Stopping the trade in charcoal and wildlife would not be easy, and would require the cooperation of the Arab countries as well as the Somali business community, sources said. Enforcement of the ban will also depend on the ability of the UIC to set up territorial control and an effective justice system.
An alarming report over the environment situation in Somalia warns that the country rich in the wildlife and jungles will be a country without trees within a few years.
An alarming report over the environment situation in Somalia warns that the country rich in the wildlife and jungles will be a country without trees within a few years.
The report, displayed here by a team of environmentalists knownas the Natural Resource Management and Environmental Protection active in most of Somalia's regions, marks the World Environment Day on Wednesday .
The report stated that the four regions of the country, Middle Shabelle, Lower Shabelle, Middle Jubba and Lower Jubba are the most seriously hit by the deforestation activity going on in the past 12 years after the downfall of the late regime.
Strengthened by pictures, the report went on to reveal 8,000 square kilometers of land from West of Hiran region and Kunyo Barrow village of Lower Shabelle region has been made barren afterthe entire jungles have been wiped off.
Dr Mohamed Elmi Soyan, a veterinarian doctor and an environmentalist among this team said in their study they discovered that 20-25 heavy-duty trucks loaded with charcoal come into Mogadishu everyday for export.
The report also stated that in the past three months alone, four huge vessels loaded with charcoal have sailed off Mogadishu port with each of them carrying 60,000-100,000 sacks of charcoal.
The report went on by saying this means each vessel was carrying over 10,000 huge trees cut off from Somalia's soil, something the report characterized as alarming and at this rate, the report said. Somalia will be treeless within a few years.
This environmentalist team is also concerned over Somalia's wildlife. The report said Somalia's wildlife is now almost non-existent after freelance poachers have been hunting the wildlife mercilessly in the country benefiting from the lawlessness.
The team has displayed a picture they took from a truck carrying the meat and the skin of dozens of gazelle meant for the local market in Brava town.
Dr Soyan has also displayed the picture of a man with three small lions which he said are meant for exporting to some of the Gulf countries, but did not mention which country.
The environmentalists have especially pointed their finger of blame at the administrations of the ports of Mogadishu and Kismaiowhere the export of the illegal commodity continues.
They have threatened that everything is now being recorded and one day those responsible and those giving them the facilitation for the export will be brought before the justice.
Mogadishu, despite the lack of a strong central authority, still saw independent local organizations marking the World Environment Day with celebrations. This year the global theme is "give earth a chance".
SATG (Somali Agricultural Technical Group)
Deforestation and charcoal export to Middle Eastern countries is one of the major causes of environmental degradation in Somalia. In recent years, illegal cutting of trees to produce charcoal for export has become a booming business industry with considerable profits. Most of the charcoal is prepared in southern Somalia and exported through the ports in Mogadishu, and Kismayo. Lack of local administration in the southern regions has exacerbated the problem. Somaliland and Puntland also experience the same problem but to a lesser extent. As a result of deforestation, land suitable for grazing is destroyed. This practice will inevitably affect the nomadic communities who entirely depend on grazing. Some of the most visible results of this action are extinction of wildlife and endangered crop species, soil erosion, soil degradation and an irreversible long term impact on the agriculture ecosystems.
Root causes of the Problem
There are several causes contributing to the deforestation and charcoal export. Some of these causes are:
1. Clearing land for settlements and for construction driven by human population growth and the demand for open land and construction material.
2. Clearing land for cultivation, this is also driven my human population growth and the demand for food
3. Cutting trees for livestock feed and overgrazing of bushes.
4. Cutting trees for energy for domestic use and for export (high foreign demand for charcoal is a major driving force of deforestation; this is the most serious problem facing Somalia).
Major Limiting Factors
1. Lack of enabling environment
2. Lack of property rights
3. Non existence of institutions that research, document, develop and enforce rules and regulations for managing natural resources
4. Contradicting government ministries pursuing different objectives or simply having disjoint operations
5. Low cost and unregulated fuel woods market
6. Higher cost and lack of know-how on the use of cooking gas, and
7. Lack of alternative livelihoods for those involved in fuel wood enterprise
8. Lack of government
Strategies for Intervention
1. Establish and strengthen the NGOs currently involved in combating desertification in their capacity in data gathering, documenting and developing public awareness of the problem as well as initiating pilot projects such as planting trees in community protected areas near villages! These will be used as educational areas.
2. Initiate programs through NGOs that promote the use of cooking gas technologies in the urban areas, reducing the taxes on cooking gas technologies. Performance of NGOs will be determined by their ability to transform urban use of wood fuel to cooking gas technology. This performance will be assessed against predetermined targets. But this will not be possible as long as the charcoal option is cheaper. This calls for effective regulation of charcoal market. This can be addressed, at least temporarily, by developing programs for the functioning regional governments and functioning local village councils to regulate the charcoal market under strict UNDP or UNEP guidelines. The proceedings of the charcoal tax could be matched with development fund (dollar for 2 dollars), which will be spent on development program on the most affected areas (which lose the charcoal income) due to the regulation and on the development and promotion of cooking gas technology.
3. The UNDPO should make dialogue with the importing countries along with Somali stakeholders (Concerned Somali entities like Universities, NGOS, this Forum, etc) in taking credible actions in controlling the charcoal imports in to their countries.
4. Capacity building of NGOS and stakeholder discussion in taking actions.
5. Use of efficient stoves for charcoal and firewood. These have been tried before. They are efficient and cheap to make.
6. Regenerations of indigenous tree species and introducing fast growing tree species with technical assistance from ICRAF.
7. Tap into the gas fields that are being developed in Ethiopia Somali region. This will enhance trade, use of clean energy and peace in the region.
8. Introduction of simple and easy to use solar cooking devises specially in the rural areas. Solar cooking demonstrated to be successful in the past.
9. Tap into the existing professional expertise in the agro-forestery sector.
The charcoal export business provides employment opportunities for many, ranging from truck drivers, owners of and workers at storage facilities, brokers and some of the commanders of armed militia who, incidentally, pocket the highest share of the profits. The most important point of departure for the charcoal exported from the central regions is the El-maan natural, located just north of Mogadishu. The volume of charcoal export from El-maan matches the main port of export in the southern areas, which is Kismayo in the Lower Juba region.
The export of charcoal is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it generates foreign currency and employment opportunities while on the other it has the potential of bequeathing a serious and far-reaching legacy for future generations. The charcoal industry is by far the greatest cause of deforestation and soil erosion, which can destroy, if not checked in time, the sustainable, which happen to be also most important, sectors of the economy, namely, agriculture and livestock.
2005 Success Stories
Shariif Butaan is an enterprising man. As a diesel mechanic, rebuilt engines were his stock in trade. He patched together Russian truck engines with mismatched generators and German leftovers with old British parts. He began supplying electricity to his own house and neighbors from a reconditioned generator in Berbera. After a time, he began to charge a reasonable fee to his neighbors for their power—he charged by the bulb.
Now he is the managing director of the Berbera Electrical Enterprise (BEE) in Somaliland, which supplies almost all the electricity in this port city. He also heads the Berbera Fishing Cooperative, a group of 75 fishermen based along the Gulf of Aden coast. He has a commercial carpentry shop and a mechanical workshop. Outside Berbera, he owns a 30 percent interest in the power system of Burao, Somaliland, and he now controls the private power distribution for about 2,500 premises in Hargeisa, Somaliland. He is the chairman of the umbrella group of all the private electricity companies in Hargeisa. But he has not always been so affluent nor so influential.
A master mechanic, Shariif Butaan (far left) teaches the mechanics of solar-powered engines. Photo Credit: Jim Shanor/ADRA
Butaan comes from a humble background. Growing up in war-torn Somalia, he has little formal education and his command of English is limited. His career in commercial power generation began in 1991 after the civil war against the former dictator, Siad Barre. Butaan's interest in renewable energy was more than philosophical. Frustration with limited sources of power generation in Somaliland has always inspired him to think "outside the box."
One of the overarching goals of the USAID Somalia's Powering Economic Diversification Project, implemented by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), is to promote peace and stability by stimulating the development of an enabling environment for economic diversification in Puntland and Somaliland in northern Somalia. This is accomplished through promoting and facilitating access to conventional and alternative energy or renewable energy technologies. The conversion of Butaan from conventional energy magnate to a proponent of renewable energy is one of the project's successes.
When Butaan got involved with the program he began to engage other energy providers in Burao and Hargeisa to form a cooperative electricity system and to invest together in wind generators needed to supplement the patchwork electrical system that now serves a large portion of Hargeisa's needs. He is now spearheading a solar cooker training program through ADRA in Hargeisa and Berbera. After he became an ADRA partner in solar power, he became interested in the portable solar cookers introduced at the Hargeisa Fair. He found improvements to the standard solar cookers built by Solar Cookers International from Kenya the first day he took one home to experiment. He asked for and contributed to an Outreach program for solar cookers in Berbera, a process that saves substantial amounts of charcoal and therefore scarce trees. Butaan is also working to raise the standards for safety and efficiency in electric wiring across Somaliland.
While Somalis have adapted to state collapse in creative ways, devising informal and formal systems that allow basic economic activity, the country remains extremely poor and underdeveloped. Civil society continues to take on an increasingly active role in shaping the rehabilitation and development. Butaan is the type of Somali entrepreneur that has emerged from the ashes of his war-torn country to become a civic leader. His intelligence and high standing in the community have helped the project to expand to new areas of Somaliland, laying a foundation for future projects. His efforts to raise interest and investment backing in the renewable energy sector have had immediate impact. His hands-on character makes him a valuable convert from conventional energy magnate to renewable energy proponent.