Somali livestock trade booming despite ravages of war

Updated 21 November 2012
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Somali livestock trade booming despite ravages of war

At Hargeisa’s dusty livestock market two men quietly size each other up, haggling over animal prices by placing fingers on their chequered headscarfs to indicate how much they would pay.
“If I press one finger, it means 100 shillings, the whole hand, 500, a bit of a finger, 90 shillings...we want to hide negotiations from other traders,” said animal trader Mohammed Iid, explaining the reasoning behind the silent barter.
Amidst the chaos that has characterised life in conflict-ravaged Somalia, the animal trade has survived — and even managed to prosper.
Traders in the northern Somali city — capital of the self-declared independent nation of Somaliland — rake in healthy profits, with sales spiking during Islamic festivals.
The symbolic sacrifice of sheep in accordance with Islam sees orders increase from neighboring countries such as Yemen, some 200 kilometers (125 miles) across the Gulf of Aden.
Up to $250 million is generated from the export of goats, sheep and camels, although the lucrative trade was crippled when Saudi Arabia — one of the biggest consumers of animals from the Horn of Africa — imposed a nine-year ban on imports amid fears of an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever.
After the import ban was lifted in 2010, Somalia exported 4.3 million animals to Saudi Arabia and 4.7 million the following year, even though Somalia was experiencing one of its worst droughts on record.
Animals are exported through the ports of Berbera in Somaliland and Bossaso in Puntland. Both have established relative stability compared to the two decades of civil war that has ravaged southern and central Somalia.
From behind a pair of glasses, 78-year-old Mohamed Aden offers an insight into what the livestock trade means to the average Somali.
“Animal rearing is our life,” he said, an animal trader for 21 years. “They are the source of our resources, our work and a source of tax for the government.”
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says Somaliland’s animal industry provides 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, employs 65 percent of the workforce and is responsible for up to 80 percent of foreign exchange.
Over two thirds of Somaliland’s rocky and bushy scrubland are given over to the animals.
“They are free range animals, they are organic,” said Ali Gulu, chief veterinary officer for the key port of Berbera.
Berbera, constructed by Russia during the Cold War, has already exported three million animals this year.
“The port is our main source of revenue...it funds up to 80 percent of the country’s budget,” said Omer Abokor Jama, the port’s deputy manager, noting the port earned $120 million in revenues last year.
While the lucrative business may be making enormous profits today, its foundation lies in long-standing ancestral ties between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula.
“It is easy for us to do business with them... they have always been our traditional business partners,” said Dhamac Barud, one of the most prosperous traders, earning over $1 million a year from exports to Saudi Arabia.
Britain’s seizure of Somaliland in 1888 was driven partly by the wish to secure regular livestock exports to fuel its growing empire, including the major Yemeni port of Aden, and that link is maintained today.
Britain supports the FAO’s efforts to develop the livestock industry, encouraging the growth of other related industries.
In Hargeisa, women extract marrow from the bones of slaughtered camels, mixing it with incense and soda ash to create soap, undercutting imported bars from surrounding nations.


Start-up of the Week: The app that restores work-life balance

Updated 19 June 2018
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Start-up of the Week: The app that restores work-life balance

  • MRSOOL helps consumers to transport goods from any store to their door
  • Since 2017 MRSOOL has had more than 80,000 couriers across the Kingdom, potentially earning the couriers an average SR 10,000 ($2,700) within two months.

JEDDAH: Too many errands, too little time? This is how MRSOOL co-founder Naif Al-Simri used to feel, so he decided to do something about it — and not just for himself.

Realizing that he was not managing to successfully juggle the demands of his job and his family, he started to think about how he could manage things better.

His thought processes eventually led him to develop MRSOOL, an app that helps consumers to transport goods from any store to their door. All consumers need to do is post their orders, and an MRSOOL courier will go to the store to pick up and deliver the desired items to them. 

“I used to work a lot and I was not at home. My family always needed something, but I could not do it for them because of work commitments. So I would suffer because I could not do their errands and also could not find a solution. The fact that I could not find a solution would upset my family,” he said. 

Thinking about the problem — and how it affected so many people in the modern world — triggered a lightbulb moment for Al-Simri. He came up with the idea of creating a platform that would deliver anything, without him having to leave the office and pick up his family. 

“If I had to run errands I would have to leave the office and take them (to the shops). That is like five trips, so I thought to myself what if I have someone who lives close by pick up what is needed on his way and make money by doing it,” he said. 

He started to outline his idea to some of his close friends who work in app development. He talked through whether they thought there was market demand for such a service and analyzed the challenges. As he threw around ideas with friends, he was starting to formulate a business plan. It was at this stage that he started to see the potential.

He discussed the concept with Ayman Al-Sanad (a friend?), and although Al-Sanad had come up against Al-Simri’s ideas before, and was cautious about practicalities, his future partner was impressed by the proposal. Nevertheless, Al-Sanad made some suggestions for tweaking the original idea. 

“I took Ayman’s feedback and went back to the drawing board. We were both working at the time so we would touch base on weekends to discuss our development and progress,” Al-Simri added.

The two future partners started working together to develop the application, which was eventually launched in 2015. Today MRSOOL serves the whole country and there are plans to expand to the GCC and Arab countries.

Not only is MRSOOL now ranked in the top 10 applications in the Kingdom, with a star rating of 4.8 out of 5, but it is even listed in the top 200 active applications by the US Apple store. 

Since 2017 MRSOOL has had more than 80,000 couriers across the Kingdom, potentially earning the couriers an average SR 10,000 ($2,700) within two months.