Prosopis julifora is a tree dreaded across the Horn of Africa. Prosopis has the ability to outcompete other trees and vegetation, deplete water sources and take over large areas, which would otherwise have been home to trees and vegetation preferred by local people.
“This invasive species generates severe impacts. It is reducing the availability of grazing land, farming land, and water for both pastoral and agropastoral populations,” says Stella Keino, Natural Resource Management Associate for FAO in Somalia.
The tree produces pods that livestock feed on when grazing. Although this contributes to nourishing animals, it also feeds the problem of prosopis spreading further. “Livestock consume the pods which are full seeds. These seeds remain intact in the animals’ digestive system and their droppings basically plant new generations of the tree wherever the animals move,” adds Keino. This includes livestock migration routes being blocked off by the spread of these fast-growing trees that form dense thickets and make passage very difficult.
Because of its hardiness, thorns and aggressive nature, local people see prosopis mostly as a threat to livestock-related livelihoods. But the tables have now turned thanks to the United Nations Joint Programme on Youth Employment project called “Supporting communities in Somaliland to ‘make prosopis make money’ through cash for work and small business development”, funded by Sweden, Denmark and Italy.
The project was implemented by FAO and the local non-governmental organization the Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA) to create entrepreneurial and employment opportunities for vulnerable women and youth through the effective management and utilization of prosopis pods in Baki, Berbera, Burao and Odweyne districts of Somaliland.
“Our research showed that processing pods into animal feed supplements and turning the trees into charcoal for domestic energy was a hidden opportunity to turn the prosopis menace into a valuable resource,” says Sadia Ahmed, PENHA country director. “Importantly, processing prosopis will also contribute to control its spread. When the pods are milled to produce feed, the crushed seeds no longer spread the tree,” added Sadia Ahmed.
The project aimed to engage and uplift small-scale traders in the region through these innovative activities and establish livestock feed processing cooperatives.
A valuable resource
With the support of PENHA, FAO raised awareness on how the species can be turned into a valuable resource by providing training on its management and utilization.
Hundreds of jobless women and youth were employed. They were provided with tools to manage the invading prosopis trees and earned money through the cash-for-work programme. People who used to see prosopis as a useless tree species that only displaced productive trees and vegetation, realized its many economic possibilities, and learned how to control its spread across vital grazing lands.
“The project has helped many unemployed people like me by providing an income that we didn’t have before. Thanks to this activity, we were able to pay some debts here and there, and managed to purchase a few things,” says Abdullahi Abdi, one of the cash-for-work beneficiaries in Odweyne district.
The laborious work carried out in the heat of the bush managed to reduce prosopis ground cover area by 2.1 km squared. This work has opened up space for other valuable vegetation preferred by local livestock.
“We cleared the prosopis and now expect other trees to grow in its place. We would love to do it again so that we earn an income from it while we pave the way for other trees to grow,” says Abdullahi. In some areas, trees were uprooted and replaced by other non-invasive trees; in other areas such as rangelands, prosopis trees were cleared to allow grass to grow.
Through the management and utilization of prosopis, the locals have also been able to spare other trees, in particular the prized Acacia trees, which they used to burn for charcoal as their main source of fuel. This has helped reduce the environmentally destructive effects of charcoal burning.
A tool to withstand drought and boost animal production
A total of 3 200 people benefited from the project, 2 480 people took part through the cash for work scheme, 570 people through unconditional cash transfers, and 100 traders and 50 representatives from local universities were trained on the uses and value of the tree’s by-products.
As an immediate result, local people were able to use the milled pods for both animal and human consumption during the dry season, enabling them to better withstand the impacts of drought.
Moreover, animals yielded more meat and milk in the dry season when they consumed prosopis by products. This decreased reliance on animal feeds and foodstuffs purchased from local markets has increased people’s savings.
Women and youth have particularly benefited from the new business opportunities related to prosopis. Through the utilization of prosopis products, nine cooperative groups were established, out of which five have been able to make their businesses profitable and self-sustaining. “Local women’s associations have proved to be effective actors in spreading awareness and establishing commercial activities that utilize prosopis,” says Keino.
Local people who have long feared and dreaded this alien tree species have now developed a better understanding of it, and see the potential to make good use of prosopis to enhance and sustain rural livelihoods affected by drought and climate change.
“The prosopis tree has turned from a useless tree to a tree with many uses, something that had never crossed our minds,” says Abdullahi happily.
The work to maximize prosopis opportunities continues through the joint FAO-WFP Resilience Initiative funded by Canada. Through this Initiative, two fodder processing facilities were built in 2019 in Beerato and Ceelxume village. “They will accommodate a variety of fodder processing machines to process prosopis pods into animal feed, including heavy duty hammer mills, feed choppers, mixer and pellet machines and feed block formation machines,” says Abdideeq Yusuf, Animal Health Officer, FAO.
One-hundred and twenty people from Beerato village have collected and dried 3.6 tonnes of prosopis pods, which will be processed between September and November 2020. This quantity of pods, when mixed with other feed ingredients, is sufficient to feed 1 000 small ruminants (sheep or goats) for one month. They will also participate in capacity building activities on prosopis animal feed production, leading to the increased production and utilization of the plant.