The Somaliland government is urging farmers to plough their fields using oxen or donkeys to avoid missing the rainy season by waiting too long to hire one of the few available tractors for ploughing.
Farmers in Awdal and Maroodi Jeex regions in the northwest are being encouraged by the ministry of agriculture to use non-mechanised means of ploughing instead of missing the planting season altogether.
Mohamud Jibril Osman, a farmer in Jufada village, 50 km west of Gabiley, has been waiting for a tractor to prepare his two hectare farm where he plans to grow sorghum and maize.
The rains started here on 25 April, but since then Osman has been on the waiting list for a tractor and he fears the rain will stop before he gets service. The nearest tractor is in Banka Wajaale, 10 km away, and the waiting list is at least three weeks long.
Osman did not plant over the last four years because of similar delays in getting a tractor. Estimating when the rains will arrive has become more difficult due to climate change, adding to the challenges of efficient planning.
Osman is now reverting to ox ploughing in a bid to revitalize his farming income. He is currently being supported by his brother with $50 a month.
Tractors were introduced into this area in 2010. A tractor ploughs a hectare in three hours, while oxen take two days. The tractors are owned by private businessmen, who charge $25 to plough one hectare. Farmers book an appointment to have their land cultivated.
For various reasons, the demand for tractors hugely outstrips supply. There is only one tractor in Biyo-Ma’an, 45 km east of Hargeisa, serving 200 rain-fed farms that all require soil preparation around the same time.
Abdiqadir Mohamud, a farmer in Biyo-ma’an, told Radio Ergo that tractors are efficient and fast but prone to mechanical breakdowns. Last year, he planted nothing at all as he couldn’t get a tractor in time for the rains. He is now reverting to ox-driven plough, a method he used to rely on years ago. The young oxen need to be trained and he will also need to buy extra equipment for ploughing.
The Somaliland government gave 500 oxen and 400 donkeys to local farmers in April 2018.
Abdiqani Hassan Abdi, the director of land, water, and farming at the ministry, said they are concerned about the drop in farm production because farmers have been missing the short window of time for preparing and planting their land. The ministry is, therefore, carrying out a campaign to encourage the farmers to use ox-ploughs.
The prices of maize and sorghum have doubled from 0.5 cents to one dollar per kilo over the past two years due to the drop in production. Abdiqani said changes in the climate pattern with unpredictable rains had exacerbated problems. Overall farm production has fallen by 45% over three years, he said.