ISF began its work in Ethiopia last year, and at the same time, we gained five new colleagues. Today, let’s introduce one of them, Ahmed Bile.
Hello Ahmed! Tell the readers a bit about yourself.
I am Ahmed Bile, a professional in the field of organizational work, who started as the Livelihoods Coordinator for ISF in Ethiopia in August. I am originally from Jijiga, the capital of the Somali Region in Ethiopia, where ISF’s work is also focused.
I studied agricultural economics at Dilla University, and since then, I have been working for nearly ten years in the nonprofit sector to promote livelihoods and food production in the Somali Region. Before joining ISF, I worked in similar roles at CARE, Save the Children, and SOS Children’s Village.
So, you have been working with livelihoods for a longer period! Could you tell us a bit about the livelihood sector in the Somali Region and its possibilities?
The Somali Region is the second-largest state in Ethiopia, and its land is surprisingly fertile but highly underutilized. This is due, for example, to the previous poor security situation, but now the situation seems more optimistic.
In the Somali Region, the majority (approximately 70%) of those working in primary production make their living primarily through pastoralism. The remaining 30% come from agriculture, but this is the sector where growth can occur—and that growth can also support the lifestyles of pastoralists.
Diversifying food production could have a significant impact: it would improve the diet of the region’s residents, diversification would enhance resilience and food security in difficult times, and it could also facilitate growth in the pastoralist sector. One of its challenges, for example, is the adequacy of fodder during dry periods.
You mentioned challenges related to security and drought quickly, but what other challenges does the area face?
Security and drought have indeed been significant challenges. Another challenge is climate change, which has led to reduced predictability of rainy seasons, potentially causing crop losses.
Moreover, there is not always enough water sources; the best ones are often located underground. However, harnessing them often requires energy and funds, which are often limited.
I assume storage is also a problem – I remember hearing that in Kenya, up to a third of the harvest goes to waste in the fields. Is the situation the same?
Yes, unfortunately. I don’t have specific numbers right now, but the problem is similar: during good harvest seasons, fresh vegetables or fruits may not reach the market before spoiling, and farmers often lack opportunities for efficient preservation or storage. Preservation or storage could also potentially help improve product value chains: canned or other processed products from vegetables and fruits would increase the level of processing and likely income. Not to mention food security.
This is also a problem from the perspective of livestock farming: storage would also help with feed during dry seasons.
Yes, this picture is starting to take shape. But what about women in this scenario? After all, we are ultimately an organization for women’s rights, even though the goal is to improve the livelihoods and opportunities for the entire community.
Traditionally, men have indeed dominated the field and society, but women, on the other hand, have carved out their own space in the realm of livelihoods. Women’s roles have traditionally leaned more towards managing households and cultivating smaller plots near homes, but many women have already shattered that glass ceiling, and hopefully, even more will follow suit.
However, one of the biggest challenges is the opportunity for investments: typically, family lands and properties serve as collateral for loans, but they are practically always owned by men. Women find it difficult to obtain loans for investments, but organizations like ours have a role to play in addressing this issue.
What significance does all of this have for the Somali Region?
We have been through many difficult years, but now it feels like better times could be ahead. Money is still tight, many people live in poverty, but at least the security situation is better now – and that is usually a strong foundation for improvement.
Improved livelihoods and the role of women mean that people’s food security improves; it means that children have a more diverse diet and can perform better in school; it means more future opportunities for everyone. And hopefully, it means peace.
Hopefully exactly that. What personally motivates you to wake up to these tasks every morning?
The idea that I can be part of building that change, where women enjoy their rights, and life is better for all of us.