29 November 2012, Hargeisa – Suweisra Mohamed waves a thick dry camel bone with an assuring smile. “This is now worth lots of dollars,” she says, brandishing the dense and neatly cut camel thighbone.
At 47, Suweisra, an unrelenting Somali woman, has finally discovered what she describes as a hidden treasure in piles of Somaliland’s waste. In fact, piles of decomposing animal remains litter the environs of every slaughterhouse across the Horn of Africa country.
“Until now, we used to throw away these bones, which were useless to us,” she said. “But now I know that we have for many years been throwing away money, a lot of it.”
She is the Chairperson of the Somaliland Meat Development Association, a local organization that brings together up to 40 women and men in Somalia’s semiautonomous region of Somaliland, located on the coast of the Gulf of Aden.
The treasure in bones
Every day, tens of thousands of camels are slaughtered across Somalia – a country where meals are heavily meat-driven. Tonnes of bones, hides, and hooves, among other culturally undesirable parts, are discarded. Under a United Kingdom-funded initiative, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization is encouraging communities to earn more income by processing animal skins, making soap from bone marrow and crafts from camel bones. The first year of this initiative has shown surprising results.
“We have been trained how to carefully cut fresh bones at both ends and extract the bone marrow, which we boil and mix with caustic soda in a very simple process,” said one project trainee, describing the soap-making process. She used soap she produced barely hours earlier to hand wash her white fabric. “It works perfectly well,” she added.
After two decades of war, drought and underdevelopment, Somalia has almost no homegrown industries that produce basic commodities like soap. In Somaliland, less affected by recent conflict, the project represents a glimpse of hope and an example that the rest of the country might follow.
Many things can be carved out of the dense, hard camel bones. In the first year of the SEED programme, over 100 trainees have learned to make necklaces, bangles, flower vases, beads, and combs among other products.
Upping livestock value
Some of the jewelry produced from carving camel bones
Livestock in most parts of Somalia are sold using visual appraisal. Sheep of local breeds weighing about 35-40 kg can be sold at an equivalent price of $320-340. The Borana cattle breed, with an estimated body weight of 400 kg, is sold at about $930. Camels, with an estimated weight of 300 kg, are sold in the Middle East at about $820 per head. Camels are big business in Somalia, with a general annual export value estimated at over $250 million.
With SEED programme enterprise activities, Somalia’s domestic meat production is on the path of realizing full value by exploiting what was hitherto waste. Dr Abdi Aw Dahir Ali, Somaliland’s livestock minister said when livestock bones are fully utilized, by producing soap and crafts, the value of livestock increases significantly.
“With soap and things like crafts produced from livestock bones, we have seen the value of each animal, be it goats, sheep or camel, go up by 30 to 60 percent and this is unprecedentedly good for our people,” said Dahir Ali. “These are the kinds of activities we strongly believe will lift people out of the cycle of poverty.”
Soap and bone craft production are slowly but surely launching into the Somali market. There now are plans to expand these ideas across Somalia, as means of creating more jobs and income in the war-torn country. So far, 120 Somali youths, mostly young women have already been trained and have started producing tonnes of soap and hundreds of necklaces, spoons, combs and flower vases, which are sold locally.
Scaling up SEED
Somali camels contribute to the economy even after death.
Strengthening the Somali national economy through development of the livestock and fisheries sectors is a key outcome of the UK-funded SEED Programme.
Joanna Reid, head of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) in Somalia, said that with stable conditions in Somaliland and sufficient investment in the livestock sector, there are hopes that its vibrant market economy will grow rapidly.
To bring revolutionary change in these sectors, DFID has been working with FAO, UNDP, ILO and Save the Children in a series of interventions. Following the completion of the first phase of the SEED Programme in July 2012, phase two of the programme now seeks to create thousands of sustainable jobs across Somalia.
“In Phase I, we have succeeded in demonstrating that jobs and income can come from things like bones, which we are scaling up in Phase II by expanding to areas like curing and tanning leather from hides and skins, biogas and manure production,” said Luca Alinovi, FAO’s Country Representative for Somalia.