Close

SOOMAL: DISPATCHES FROM A NOMAD

Somaliland turns to greenhouse-farming technology to feed itself

In Summary

• Somaliland imports almost all its food supplies, including perishable vegetables mostly from neighbouring Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates.

• Since setting shop in Hargeisa in 2016, Horn Gardens has installed hundreds of greenhouses across the tiny but agriculturally rich self-declared state of Somaliland. 

A Horn Gardens greenhouse in Cara-yaambo village, Hargeisa
FOOD SECURITY A Horn Gardens greenhouse in Cara-yaambo village, Hargeisa
Image: HASSAN MOHAMED

Horn Gardens, Somaliland's first agribusiness firm, is helping more local farmers to use greenhouse technology and forget their old unproductive traditional farming methods.

This is as a result of biting food insecurity due to persistent droughts and erratic weather patterns blamed on climate change. 

We always hear the United Nations seeking support to feed millions of drought-stricken populations in the Horn of Africa, including those in Somaliland. Perhaps, it is time to invest in technology to save lives. 

Somaliland imports almost all its food supplies, including perishable vegetables mostly from neighbouring Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates. The brains behind Horn Garden believe their latest method is proof that the country can in future feed itself. What this simply means is that there is a huge ready market worth millions of dollars up for grabs.

However, a lot needs to be done.  Since setting shop in Hargeisa in 2016, Horn Gardens has installed hundreds of greenhouses across the tiny but agriculturally rich self-declared state of Somaliland. Abdihafid Hashi, co-founder of Horn Gardens, says if properly supported, farming is the best way to guarantee jobs for the millions of youth grappling with unemployment.  

Hashi's 20-year-old son Abdullahi, who hopes to be a pilot, is currently gaining invaluable farming experience helping to manage the firm. He runs the operations and has even known how to install and manage a greenhouse facility.   

BIGGEST CHALLENGES

"We have very big arable virgin land. The biggest challenge farmers in this country faced was basic knowledge on proper farming methods such as the greenhouse method of drip irrigation. It saves almost 80 per cent of water compared to the other kinds of farming. Second is access to proper world standard farm inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. So, what we did was we established a one-stop-shop which gave access to farmers to get the knowledge and proper farm inputs," Hashi said.     

Horn Gardens is the official Somaliland agent for Amiran, the leading greenhouse technology leader in Africa.  It solely sells and distributes Amiran’s products. Farmers have access to certified seeds, fertilisers, drip irrigation sets and the latest greenhouses covers with a special five-layer co-extrusion technology anti-dust cover that provides maximum light transmission, diffusion and dispersion rate for the plants. It also protects plants from UV radiation for up to three years warranty period.   

 One greenhouse complete  with set of desired seeds, fertiliser, drip irrigation set and one season full support and management by an agronomist costs around $6,000 or Sh600,000. Hashi says they give farmers a one-year guarantee to recoup their initial start-up cost and to making a profit. 

 Since not all farmers can afford to raise the amount, international organisations such as USAID through its Growth Enterprise Employment Livelihood project, invests in farmers by buying greenhouses for them. Just to show how lucrative the greenhouse business has become, local banks now provide loans to interested clients who want to invest in the business. Dahabshil Bank, through its Dahab Micro-finance department provides such services. 

RISING DEMAND FOR GREENHOUSES

The firm's started with six greenhouses located 32km west of Hargeisa in Cara-yaambo village, a picturesque agricultural rich area of western Somaliland surrounded by hills along the main road to the Ethiopian border.  Six Kenyan agronomists with three other support staff work for the firm. They plant tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicums, onions, cabbages, sweet melons, oranges, pineapples, sweet potatoes, spinaches, papayas, lemons and garlic. 

 Samson Simiyu Milimo, 27, from Bungoma county is among the Kenyan staff. I found him at the firm in Cara-yaambo. He said farmers in Somaliland are showing a keen interest to learn from them and demand for greenhouses is on the rise. 

"Somaliland is safe. It is even safer than Kenya. I have been here for nearly two years and I am very happy. This is an arid area and sometimes getting water is a problem but we have tried to help farmers with our drip irrigation system that maximizes on water. We are very happy to share our experiences with the locals," Milimo said as he harvested tomatoes with his workmate, Mohamed Adan. 

 Horn Gardens offer farmers complete support which includes free advice on best crops to grow depending on a farm’s soil nutrients, advice and support on pest control, planting and harvesting, including connecting them with markets for their produce. This information is translated into Somali by Amiran to make sure the message reaches home. Basically, it is a sure investment with almost 100 per cent returns.

GUARANTEED INVESTMENT

"Depending on market price, sometimes we get $1 for a kilo of tomatoes or 40 cents. The beauty of greenhouse farming is that it never ends so if you have several greenhouses, your supplies never end. In a month's time, tomato prices will likely shoot up to $1.5 per kilo. So, you can see you get back your money after six months and we give a guarantee of returning your investment plus profit in one year with our products," Hashi added. 

 Hashi and his team have more grandiose plans for the future of Somaliland agriculture. They hope to cement their presence and be the biggest farm. He says with the support they are getting from their partners, the sky is the limit.   

"Our biggest challenge was water but thanks to our partner Geel project, we now have a well and soon solar panels will be installed for pumping the water. Once that is done, we want to start serious farming in the 35 hectares in Cara-yaambo. All we have been doing until now was simply a demonstration farming, to show and train local farmer on best farming practices, show them the advantage of drip irrigation and the greenhouse farming technology. Very soon we will start our own commercial farming in large-scale to prove that this country can feed itself," he said.  

His advice to the youth is simple. Why seek employment when you can be your own boss? 

 “The next millionaires in the world are farmers. I call agriculture the new green gold. People should stop experimenting on farming by blindly waiting for rain that never comes. We are in the 21st century where agricultural technologies guarantee 100 per cent stress-free harvests twice or even thrice in a year depending on what you grow. At the end of the year, you smile all the way to the bank,” Hashi said sipping his Somali tea.