Solving Environmental Issues Through Customary Laws

Community led environmental campaign against charcoal in  Ulheed, Sanaag. May 2015

Community led environmental campaign against charcoal in Ulheed, Sanaag. May 2015

Over the last two decades, and since the collapse of the Somali central government in 1991, the need for sources of income, and the absence of environmental protection regulations have provided the perfect conditions for illegal logging and charcoal production to thrive in many regions of Somalia.

In Sanaag region, northern Somalia, charcoal is produced in remote areas and is transported to local markets in urban and rural towns, or to markets in big cities such as Bossaso that are also points of export to the Gulf States.

Many people became involved in charcoal production – either as investors or producers – for its profitability and marketability both in local and foreign markets. This resulted in a subsequent increase in the levels of indiscriminate, wanton cutting of trees, causing land degradation and desertification, which intensifies soil erosion and reduces rainfall, ultimately leading to severe recurring droughts.

For the last 20 years, Adeso has been working closely with communities, campaigning against charcoal production, by educating the public on the permanent damage that producing charcoal brings about. Adeso has lobbied local authorities, and the regional government of Puntland to issue regulations and customary laws that ban cutting down trees, and to hold accountable those who are involved in the charcoal business. Adeso has also worked on reducing the domestic reliance on charcoal as a fuel, through the introduction of affordable alternative energy such as solar energy.

In May 2015, 120 clan elders, members of Durduri and Dhahar women organizations, Charcoal producers and traders, and other community members, participated in a charcoal banning meeting that was held in the Ulheed District of Almadow Mountains in Sanag region. This anti-charcoal production meeting was initiated by the clan elders in the coastal area of Ulheed and Durduri.

The meeting was also attended and supported by elders and women groups from Dhahar district of Sanaag region. In 2008, the Dhahar community succeeded in banning charcoal production in their district, and this victory was strengthened and sustained by the establishment of a set of customary laws (xeer) which outlawed logging activities and banned charcoal production and trade, and under which strict punitive measures are taken against those who breach these laws.

At the end of the meeting, all participants agreed that; as of June 1st, 2015 all charcoal production related activities in Ulheed area will be deemed illegal and punishable. And any persons caught cutting trees, burning them or transporting charcoal will be apprehended and penalized. Then and there, 48 charcoals investors and producers renounced the production and the trade in charcoal, and they promised that they will no longer finance any activities relating to charcoal production or trade.

“I used to cut trees, and I invested in charcoal production. I even used my own truck to transport it to the market. But as I have become environmentally conscious, I have realized that I was partaking in the destruction of our natural resources and depletion of our land. I have also realized that this practice is a threat to the livelihoods of the generations to come. And so I vowed to abandon charcoal production for good, and I decided that for every tree I cut down, I should plant another one to compensate for it,”  Stated Dahir Abdirahman, a former charcoal trader from Durduri who participated in the meeting.

Dahir and many others, who attended the meeting, welcomed the decisions community elders have taken and expressed their sincere desire to rally around this cause, and to see to it that the outcomes of this meeting are carried out to the letter.

Ahmed Farah, one of Ulheed clan elders expressed his concerns about the diminishing forests that used to exist in the region when he was a boy, “The pace at which these activities are being carried out is extremely alarming, and if charcoal burning continues with impunity at these startling rates, Ulheed area will be completely wiped out of trees after few years. And that is a day; I don’t plan to live to see. That’s why we should translate the decisions taken today into tangible actions. And we should do that by following the example of our brothers in Dhahar district.”

“Customary laws such as those in Dhahar, should be established, and offenders both producers and traders should be apprehended and strict punishments are meted out to them” Ahmed said.

Adeso believes that the sustainable solutions to environmental issues such as cutting down trees for charcoal production should come from the communities themselves. Dhahar serves as a perfect example for the success and sustainability of community-led initiative that draws on customary laws that already exist in these communities. Therefore, communities need to be empowered to establish and disseminate regulations that build on local customary laws that are already part of the local culture and can be enforced by communities themselves.

Author: Muna Ali