This Start-Up is Disrupting Food Insecurity in Drought Stricken Somalia and Somaliland

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by Abdi Nur

This Start-Up is Disrupting Food Insecurity in Drought Stricken Somalia and Somaliland

The Horn of Africa has not been pleasant in the last few years as drought and starvation were the realities. Welcome to Boodhari Feed and Flour Mills, spearheaded by a group of Somali born Canadians who want to change this reality for the better.

BACKGROUND

We are in Somaliland, the most promising unrecognized country in Africa and emerging from the ashes of post 1988 Somalia civil war. Somaliland and it’s sister Somalia have been hit with severe drought and half the population in both regions was on the brink of annihilation due to lack of rain, poor food storage systems, and the absence of modern agriculture. Most of the consumables are imported from overseas. The problem is not lack of money but lack of innovation within the business community for Agri business. Furthermore, the regional manager of the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in charge of addressing this most unwanted situation at the global level. Has been asked to leave Mogadishu (Somalia) due to lack of strategy for the region, as the story goes https://www.hiiraan.com/news4/2017/Jun/142649/fao_country_boss_given_72_hours_to_leave_mogadishu.aspx.

THE RESPONSE

A group of Somali Canadians consisting of scientists, engineers, a banker and flour miller (technical advisor), launched an initiative to build the first flour mill and animal feed facility in the region. In the hope of jump starting an Agribusiness sector where the region can eventually feed itself, and a lack of rain would equate to just another challenge to overcome. Not loss of livelihoods and starvation. The raw material, wheat, will be procured from the international commodity markets until sufficient sources are grown locally.

To learn more about this project visit www.boodharimills.com

THE CHALLENGE

As with any business the project must be viable and make money, which is the easy part to prove with a return on investment in the double digits. Equally as critical, it must show meaningful sustainable development, in our case the enterprise must be able to save lives period. This is a different kind of setting and western bottomline business metrics alone are not enough in any feasibility assessment. Pardon those that are unaware of the local realities in this part of the neighbourhood. You do not want your future customers dying, it is really bad for business and some intervention is necessary other than collecting coin from the paying customers.

This fact alone should get the local business community to rise up to the challenge. No token gestures, implement real measurable impactful initiatives. In the western world sustainability department of any company may donate computers, or some other hardware or service which in it’s absence no one is severely affected.

In Somaliland and Somalia, how does an enterprise achieve meaningful contribution to the community (jobs noted), this is the most difficult challenge to address. Sustainability is relative and depends on what the local needs are. Here the local need is life sustaining eatables and preservation of live stock.  

When the animals are gone due to lack of vegetation arising from delayed rainy season, soon starvation sets in and many die off from malnutrition and starvation, especially the fragile individuals such as the young and old.  The survivors contract communicable diseases as the rains eventually come late, the runoff from the rains is contaminated by thousands of dead animal carcasses in the region. The water holes are hazardous! 

The Goatherder

On the outskirts of a small town called Arabsiyo I met a goat herder, with a distinct fragility of his animals being obvious to the naked eye, they just survived the drought, barely. We talked about various subjects from politics to food security, the herder informed me that a year ago he had 600 animals and now less than 200 animals are left. All of them were lost within a period of sixty days. 

I said “within sixty days” and he replied “haa lixdan cisho gudaheed”, meaning yes within that period. Financed by family relatives abroad, he trucked the remaining animals to Arabsiyo from 300 km away, Otherwise all might have been lost. Arabsiyo is known for it’s year round greenery.

An idea occurred to me, and I started calculating the average feed per day for an adult sheep and how much feed I would need to save the 600 animals he lost in that sixty days until the rains showed up………. and all the technical stuff a nerdy scientist would extrapolate from an oral piece of data given by a nomad. Infact I have looked at this very same problem three months earlier in the comfort of my Toronto Condominium. A mental exercise in the sun beaten outskirts of Arabsiyo was not too difficult at this point. Preparation, Preparation!

I explained to him why the Boodhari team is here and the flour mill and feed and so forth, and then he looked at me and says “ if this thing you’re talking about happens, some can afford to buy the feed, but many others will not” in which I replied “ how about if I sold the feed in advance and collected funds 90 days later since most of the animals will survive the short delayed rain period with my animal feed, or they can reimburse me in livestock at a fair market value and I can sell them in the open market”….and some other on the spot rebuttal, of course assuming all future rains will only be delayed and not fail to completely show up.

As with any enterprise the risks must be weighed before any commitment is made. At this point my intention was to keep the conversation going with this wise man and get him to spit out some gold nuggets of information. There is no amount of research that will counter getting out of the building and meeting real people. A win-win situation on business bottom line objectives and hard core sustainability, I thought. And the conversation continued to take various turns and twists until we shook hands and said good bye.

We are currently doing the funding rounds for the project and we raised a substantial amount of money, and are on our way to achieving the economy of scale criteria which we envisioned the project for. Every email or conversation we receive from current and potential funders always comes back to the difference the project could make in the region.

The real value of any business is in it’s strategy towards social and sustainability objectives. Consider the fact that nearly 50% of the world’s wealth managers are directing investments towards the companies that simultaneously meet profits and social issues within the communities they do business with. Not by choice, but rather a demand from the sophisticated investors and a changing world demographic (Morgan Stanley https://www.morganstanley.com/what-we-do/institute-for-sustainable-investing )

challenges are many and impactful solutions few, tell us what sustainability means to you….?

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