Somali women push into fish industry

Fardowsa Mohamed Ahmed: ‘… men take advantage of these cultural norms and block women who try to join the businesses they traditionally dominate.’ Photograph: Abdishukri Haybe

Every morning before sunrise, when most residents in the southern coastal city of Kismayo are asleep, Fardowsa Mohamed Ahmed, 32, goes to the beach to purchase fresh fish, which she will sell in the market.

Like most women in this business, she depends on men to catch the fish. Men dominate the fishing sector. It is considered “men’s work” in Somali society. But Ahmed is determined to push her way in.

“They say it is men’s work,” she says. “They don’t trust that we are strong enough to run a boat or manage a business. They want us to sell things like milk on the roadside or stay at home.”

Ahmed was introduced to the industry by a friend, and she soon discovered that other women were challenging stereotypes, switching from selling milk and tea, which could pay for a day’s food, to selling fish, which could pay for food and help cover school fees.

“It was like a door of hope had opened for me in the sea,” she says. “I was hesitant at the beginning but I now feel empowered.”

To pay rent for a space in the market and to buy an icebox to store her fish, Ahmed took out a $300 (£246) loan from Kaah International Microfinance Service (Kims), the first privately owned microfinance institution in Somalia, when it opened in 2014. She has been able to gradually expand her business.

“I pay back $25 every month,” she says. “Kims has been extremely helpful in laying the foundation for my business. I now focus on acquiring other crucial skills like fish-drying, marketing and building new customers.”

With funding from the UK’s Department for International Development, Kims provides sharia-compliant financial support to people on low-incomes throughout Somalia.

“We have supported 25,000 female-owned businesses since we began operating in 2014,” says Khalif Yusuf, Kims regional manager in Kismayo. “We particularly prioritise women in the fishing sector since they have proven to be competitive and created employment opportunities for other fellow women.”

Ahmed is one of 70 members of a women’s cooperative in Kismayo’s fishing sector, supported by Kims. The cooperative employs 10 young women who receive training and mentorship while at the same time earning income with a view to starting their own business in the future.

Some of the women are now earning $200 a month, compared with about $50 before joining the sector. It’s not been easy, though. Ahmed and other women in the cooperative have received abuse from men for doing their work. Men tell the women they are too weak to sail a boat to catch fish, or that they are embarrassing their families.

Somali women make up 56% of the population, but generate up to 70% of household income, according to government figures. However, they are highly underrepresented in the formal labour force.

“In addition to lack of investment and favourable public policy, Somali women face cultural barriers that dictate what type of business they can or cannot do,” says Idil Abdulkadir Hussein, the Kismayo-based director of Somali Peace Development Initiatives. “Therefore, men take advantage of these cultural norms and block women who try to join the businesses they traditionally dominate.”

Fardowsa Mohamed Ahmed: ‘[Men] don’t trust that we are strong enough to run a boat or manage a business.’Photograph: Abdishukri Haybe

Ahmed’s family fled the capital, Mogadishu, after the civil war erupted in the early 1990s. When her father died, her mother started selling dry food rations. Like most girls from poor backgrounds, Ahmed was married when she was 16 and had her first child by the time she turned 17. She never had the opportunity to go to school.

“Education was not a priority for us at the time,” she says. “But I want my children to get all the opportunities that I have missed in life. It is not going to be easy but I will try my best as long as I am alive and if I die I will leave them to God.”

Somalia has the longest coastline in Africa, stretching more than 2,000 miles (more than 3,300km) and has been historically exploited by illegal foreign vessels. In 2019, however, for the first time in more than 20 years, the country issued official fishing licences to foreign companies, generating more than $1m.

The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, which signed an agreement with 31 Chinese vessels, said the revenue collected from offshore licensing would be used to improve the domestic fishing sector.

Ahmed wants to take advantage of that potential opportunity to expand her business.

“I want to buy a boat and compete with men,” she says. “I believe if we get reliable access to investment we can build a sustainable economy for our community.”

How to grow a better tomato

As prime tomato-transplanting time arrives this month up north — once the danger of frost has passed — you may be in search of seedlings. Or maybe you started your tomatoes from seed, or have young plants (homegrown or store-bought) already in the ground, or in a big pot on your balcony.

Whatever stage of the tomato timeline you’re at, you may be wondering: What needs to happen next, in the weeks before that first ripe tomato?

I asked Tom Stearns, who founded High Mowing Organic Seeds in 1996 and has grown a lot of tomatoes.

“The first seed I ever saved was a tomato’s,” said Mr. Stearns, who in the decades since has trialed heirlooms and hybrids at his Vermont farm, helping breeders from Cornell, the University of New Hampshire, Oregon State University and elsewhere fine-tune the development of new organic varieties.

Mr. Stearns’s company, which has the largest selection of certified organic seed varieties in North America, has seen a 300 percent increase in home-garden sales since mid-March. With other seed sellers reporting similar upticks, that probably means a lot of people are trying their first vegetable gardens — and their first tomato plants.

He shared his advice.

Big-box stores typically have limited choices, familiar basic varieties. “Farm stands and farmers’ markets will have much more diversity — more options, and more interesting options,” Mr. Stearns said. Many independent garden centers also buy from local farmers, if there is no stand nearby.

“Plus, the farmer knows the varieties, and not just their flavors, but how they grow in your area,” Mr. Stearns said.

Ask about the disease-resistance and how big each variety gets — whether it’s a determinate or bush type, with less of a vining habit than rangy indeterminates that can grow as high as 10 feet.

The sculptural fluted fruit of an heirloom Pink Accordion tomato.
The sculptural fluted fruit of an heirloom Pink Accordion tomato.Credit…Margaret Roach

Tomatoes want a full-sun spot, period. Warming the soil, especially in northern areas, provides these tender perennials of South American ancestry with additional comfort. A mulch of black plastic is an easy solution.

“There are not too many cases where I think the use of a fossil-fuel product is worth it on the home-garden scale,” Mr. Stearns said. “But tomatoes are one case where that has merit.”

Landscape fabric is a more resource-conscious alternative, he said: “A 20-foot strip can mulch a row of 10 plants for 10 years.” Roll it up at the season’s end to store and reuse.

Southern growers get a pass on this. “If you’re in a warm place, where heat is not your limiting factor, go with straw,” Mr. Stearns advised.

All mulches suppress weeds and conserve moisture, fostering what Mr. Stearns calls “tomato-hygiene management,” which is critical because tomatoes are susceptible to fungal, bacterial, viral and other diseases.

A clean mulch layer between the soil surface and the lowest leaves — the bottom rung on the ladder on which disease spores can splash up and start to climb the plant — is a key defense.

Bonus tip: Remove the lowest set of leaves before planting, so the first rung is that much harder to reach.

“Especially in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic and upper Midwest, as an example, the fungal diseases Septoria and early blight are in your soil all the time,” Mr. Stearns said. “Rotating where you grow your tomatoes from year to year is not really going to help — you must managethe disease.”

In the Florida weave method of trellising tomatoes that High Mowing uses, successive bands of twine are woven in a figure-eight style between stakes as plants grow, to give pruned plants support along with air and light.
In the Florida weave method of trellising tomatoes that High Mowing uses, successive bands of twine are woven in a figure-eight style between stakes as plants grow, to give pruned plants support along with air and light.Credit…High Mowing Organic Seeds

Tomatoes have the ability to produce roots off their stems, known as adventitious roots. Capitalize on this.

“A lot of tomato seedlings can come to you leggy and weak,” Mr. Stearns said. “So planting the seedling deep, halfway up the stalk, is good.”

Deeper rooting also helps with drought resistance later on.

Although tomatoes are always classified as heavy feeders, this can be misleading. In well-prepared, fertile soil, a tomato plant is resourceful.

“Tomato root systems are enormous, and most varieties are pretty good at foraging for nutrients three or four feet away from the main stem,” Mr. Stearns said. At his farm, fish emulsion is added to the irrigation water, providing beneficial micronutrients.

The heavy-feeder reputation can prompt unnecessary fertilization. “There is a risk that concentrated nitrogen fertilizer can promote green growth at the expense of fruit,” he said, “and even make plants vulnerable to disease.”

Fungal diseases like nothing better than a humid jungle. So make sure plants in a row are 18 inches apart, and leave at least four feet between rows with pruned plants that you have staked or trellised (or more with unpruned caged plants).

And don’t hesitate to prune, because increased airflow and light help plants stay vigorous.

“A tomato makes about twice as many branches and leaves as it needs to produce fruit,” Mr. Stearns said. “So you can cut off all the suckers” — those small shoots that sprout where the stem and a side branch meet — “and every other leaf, and have no negative impact on yields.”

Just don’t prune before the dew dries or after a rain: Stay out of the tomato row when foliage is wet to minimize spreading trouble.

Although many gardeners use tomato cages — the best choice if you’re not planning to prune — only the biggest ones can accommodate an indeterminate plant. Trellising and pruning allows more light and air to reach the plants.
Although many gardeners use tomato cages — the best choice if you’re not planning to prune — only the biggest ones can accommodate an indeterminate plant. Trellising and pruning allows more light and air to reach the plants.Credit…Margaret Roach

Cages, stakes and trellises can get tomatoes up off the ground. If you are not going to keep up with pruning, use a large cage.

But Mr. Stearns recommends trellising: “It promotes good yields; it’s easy to see what’s going on with your plants; and fruit is easy to harvest without damaging anything.”

There are various trellis techniques, including the Florida weave, where twine is woven, figure-eight style, in and out of a series of posts set a foot deep in the tomato row (get the how-to on the High Mowing blog). As plants grow, more weaving is added every eight inches or so up the posts.

“Again: Think air circulation,” he said. “Never do a tomato tepee, with several plants tied up to one support. Inside, it will be like 100 percent humidity — dew will never dry off in there. All the plants need is 24 hours at 100 percent humidity and disease is happening, disease you can help prevent.”

Mulch helps, but in the extreme situation of a fast-draining sandy soil in hot weather, your plants may require twice-weekly watering. Stick a finger into the soil to feel whether it is slightly moist — which it should be at all times.

Always be on the lookout for yellowing leaves, which should be removed promptly and disposed of.
Always be on the lookout for yellowing leaves, which should be removed promptly and disposed of.Credit…Margaret Roach

“Tomato problems can kind of sneak up on you,” Mr. Stearns said. “You can walk out one day and the plants look fine, and a week later they’ve melted.”

One thing to always look for and remove at once: yellowing leaves. Dispose of affected foliage at a distance from the garden. The Missouri Botanical Garden’s fact sheet includes photos of common foliage diseases.

While tomatoes are technically self-pollinators, with male and female flower parts in each blossom, wind movement or a bumblebee helps pollen move from anther to stigma (the receptive female part). Sometimes temperature extremes, or even high humidity that makes the pollen too sticky, can interfere, and flowers don’t get pollinated thoroughly, or even drop off.

“Some diseases can affect flower branches and knock back the yield, too,” Mr. Stearns said. “And then there are all those things that steal the fruit before you get to them.”

Sometimes plants are lush with tropical growth, but no flowers or fruit — in which case, you may have over-fertilized, Mr. Stearns said: “Water more to wash out some of the nitrogen. It’s water-soluble, and you can leach it out a bit.”

An empty egg carton becomes the gift box for an offering of the first batch of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes to share with a neighbor. 
An empty egg carton becomes the gift box for an offering of the first batch of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes to share with a neighbor. Credit…Margaret Roach

At harvest time, make sauce to freeze or can, and also freeze whole fruits in freezer bags to substitute for canned tomatoes in soups, stews and sauces. It’s just the kind of plan-ahead ingredient we all wish we had on hand right now, while waiting for tomato time.

Tomatoes crave full sun and warm soil. While Southern gardeners can just mulch with straw, in the North, preheat soil before transplanting with black plastic or reusable landscape fabric. And don’t transplant until the danger of frost is past.

Practice good tomato hygiene: Prevent soil splash, potentially laden with disease spores, from getting up onto plants. A mulch layer helps, and so does pruning off the lowest set of leaves before planting.

Open plants up to light and air by spacing 18 inches apart within a row and leaving four feet between rows. Cage if you don’t plan to prune, but better yet: Prune and trellis your plants.

Plant deep — really deep — because tomatoes form roots off buried stem tissue, becoming more drought-resilient.

Don’t overfeed: In a fertile soil, tomatoes don’t need the bagged stuff, which can cause excess green growth at the expense of fruit, and promote disease.

Be vigilant for trouble signs, especially yellowing leaves. Remove and discard.

Cocoa production is an important cog in Ghana’s economy. Wikimedia Commons

Ghana’s cocoa farmers are trapped by the chocolate industry

The chocolate industry is worth more than $80 billion a year. But some cocoa farmers in parts of West Africa are poorer now than they were in the 1970s or 1980s. In other areas, artificial support for cocoa farming is creating a debt problem. Farmers are also still under pressure to supply markets in wealthy countries instead of securing their own future.

Cocoa production is an important cog in Ghana’s economy. Wikimedia Commons
Cocoa production is an important cog in Ghana’s economy. Wikimedia Commons

In research published last year I explored sustainability programmes designed to support cocoa farming in West Africa. My aim was to identify winners and losers.

I looked at initiatives such as CocoaAction, a $500 million “sustainability scheme” launched in 2014, and concluded that they were done in the interests of large multinationals. They did not necessarily relieve poverty or develop the region’s economies. In fact they created new problems.

To sustain their livelihoods, the cocoa farmers of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana need to diversify away from cocoa production. But multinational chocolate companies need farmers to keep producing cocoa.


Farmers choose to diversify their crops for a host of reasons. These include a reduction in the resources they need to produce a crop (such as suitable land), and a reduction in the price they can get for the crop.

Cocoa farming requires tropical forestland. This is limited; it is not possible to keep expanding to new land to keep producing cocoa. So when the land is exhausted, farmers would benefit from diversifying to products like rubber and palm oil. They do not need to grow cocoa for its own sake.

A great deal of diversification occurred during the cocoa crisis of the 1970s in Ghana. Cereal output increased from 388,000 tonnes in 1964/1965 to over 1 million tonnes in 1983/83, and decreased when cocoa was “revitalised”. The same was the case with coconut, palm oil and groundnut.

But such diversification is more recently being prevented by multinationals and other stakeholders who want cocoa cultivation to continue. Multinationals that depend on cocoa as a raw material openly (and rightly) regard diversification as a risk to their business. So they keep spending on cocoa farming inputs.

Why there’s a limit to cocoa

In West Africa, cocoa has historically been cultivated using slash and burn farming. Forest was cut down and burned before planting, and then, when the plot became infertile, the farmer moved to fresh forestland and did the same again.

The new land offered fertile soil, a favourable microclimate and fewer pests and diseases. Growing the cocoa took less labour and yielded more.

This explains the link between cocoa farming and deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. A recent investigation showed that since 2000, Ivorian cocoa has been dependent on protected areas. Almost half of Mont Peko National Park, for example, which is home to endangered species, as well as Marahoue National Park has been lost to cocoa planting since 2000.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the area covered by forest decreased from 16 million hectares – roughly half of the country – in 1960 to less than 2 million hectares in 2005.

Forestland is finite. Slash and burn is no longer an option, because so much of the forest is gone. In West Africa, planters are now staying on the same piece of land and reworking it.

This has created its own set of problems.

Rising costs and threats

In both Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, several estimates of the cost of maintaining a cocoa farm show that the investment costs required for replanting have approximately doubled. One estimate of labour investment put the replanting effort at 260 days per hectare, compared with 74 days per hectare for planting using slash and burn.

The extra labour needed for sedentary cultivation is leading to child trafficking and child labour in cocoa cultivation. Child trafficking generally occurs when planters are searching for cheaper sources of labour for replanting.

Planters who have successfully diversified into other crops have stopped using child labour. In the cocoa industry, however, the use of child labour is increasing. For example, the number of child labourers in the Ivorian cocoa industry increased by almost 400,000 between 2008 and 2013.

There has also been a massive increase in the use of fertilisers and pesticides to aid cocoa production without slash and burn.

The increased input (labour, fertilisers and pesticides) for replanting land amounts to a higher production cost. It cannot be adjusted by price setting. Cocoa producers have no control over price; they are price takers. So the higher production cost reduces the profit made by cocoa farmers.

This explains why cocoa producers in Côte d’Ivoire are poorer now  than they were decades ago.

In Ghana, the government, through the cocoa marketing board, COCOBOD, has managed the transition from slash and burn to sedentary farming. The government created a mass spraying programme to control diseases and pests. It also subsidised fertiliser and created a pricing policy that has sometimes amounted to a government subsidy this links need users to subscribe. Due to the extra free input provided by the government, sometimes supported by NGOs and multinational corporations, farmers have not become poorer in Ghana. But the approach has led to huge debt for COCOBOD. For example, COCOBOD incurred GHc2 billion (US$367 million) debt for subsidising the price of cocoa for the year 2017.

Although cocoa planters are faring well in Ghana, it is not clear that Ghana’s cocoa sector is really a success story. The shift to debt financing has artificially produced the success.

The way forward

Cocoa “sustainability” activities are not the way forward. Cocoa sustainability is a new form of colonisation in Africa, because its real goal is to prevent African planters from diversifying away from cocoa into other crops. These programmes keep the cocoa industry going under deteriorating conditions.

The way forward is to switch from cocoa to crops that do not require forestland (new or exhausted), extra fertilisers or more labour.

Research has shown that cocoa planters in Côte d’Ivoire who have diversified into other crops, such as rubber, have succeeded in escaping poverty.

But that is seen as a major threat to the supply of raw material to Western multinationals. One representative of a large chocolate multinational explained “my enemy is not my competitor in the purchase of cocoa, but the rubber industry.”

In conclusion, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have to think about what is best for them instead of what is best for the chocolate industry and consumers in the developed world.

Army worm (file photo).

U.S. Committed to Stop Spread of Fall Army Worm in Africa

The US government has expressed its commitment to pursue partnership with African nations in the fight against stopping the spread of fall armyworm.

Army worm (file photo).
Army worm (file photo).

In her telephonic press briefing about efforts to combat fall armyworm in Africa to day, USAID Fall Armyworm Task Force Coordinator Regina Eddy said the worm has been identified in over 35 countries of Africa.

She revealed that the US has a decade of experience in controlling fall armyworm so the challenge is transferring that knowledge to African counterparts and opening the path to thousands of technology.

The worm has damaged about 3 million hectares of maize crop since it occurred in Africa two years ago. Additionally, agriculture experts estimate the pest has caused over 13 billion USD in losses for crops across African countries.

To combat the pest in Ethiopia, the US government has been working with government and the private sector on making recommendations on the measures to be taken based on experience, Eddy said.

A total of 210 experts and development agents were reportedly trained early this year so that they can cascade the knowledge and skills to communities, it was learned.

The fall army worm has spread in more than 5 regions of Ethiopia.

SOURCE: Ethiopian News Agency (Addis Ababa)

Project linking agriculture to nutrition launched

The governor of the western Mozambican province of Tete, Paulo Auade, on Monday launched the “Linking Agriculture to Nutrition” project, an initiative intended to reduce the high rate of chronic malnutrition in the project.

Photo: Hope and Initiatives Namibia

Auade said the government is concerned with the rate of malnutrition, which he regarded as making no sense in a province which is self-sufficient in agricultural production.

“The results remain poor, since the reduction in malnutrition remains very slow”, said Auade. “So we are urging our cooperation partners to adopt evidence-based participatory strategies, covering households that are vulnerable to malnutrition, especially those that are headed by women or by children, or in remote areas without access to health units.

He added that the statistics from the Provincial Directorate of Agriculture and Food Security show that Tete is self-sufficient in grain, and is one of the country’s major livestock producers.

Furthermore, per capita consumption of fisheries produce in Tete is near the ideal figure of 18 kilos per person per year (doubtless due to the fishing industry on Cahora Bassa lake).

Yet despite this, “both acute and chronic malnutrition remain at levels much above those regarded as acceptable by the World Health Organisation (WHO)”, said Auade, and this had serious impacts on the human capital of the province.

The results of the Demographic and Health Survey of 2011 showed a rate of chronic malnutrition of 44.2 per cent. The figures from the family budget survey of 2014/15 showed this had only fallen by one per cent, to 43.2 per cent.

The same two surveys showed a barely significant fall in acute malnutrition among children in Tete from six per cent in 2011 to 5.7 per cent in 2014/15.

The fight against malnutrition, said Auade, must involve the establishment of sectoral synergies and an overall approach, given that the causes of the situation are multiple and complex.

SOURCE: Poptel