Mustafe Hassan Diriye, a pastoralist in Hargeisa, has been feeding his 20 camels on cactus plants to keep them alive in the drought, preparing the fodder by burning the spikes off the cactus so they do not injure the camels’ mouth and tongue.

Mustafe puts his own taxi to use by driving out into the valleys surrounding the city to collect cactus and carrying it back in a trailer.

“I am a camel-keeper and my father and grandfather before me kept livestock,” Mustafe told Radio Ergo. “They used to migrate to the areas where there was rainfall. But these days, the drought has become widespread with loss of vegetation leaving almost no grazing. That has forced me to turn to cactus to save the camels.”


Mustafe, a father of five, had been planning to move up to the coastal area north of Hargeisa with his camels when he heard about rainfall there, but seeing many herders returning to their villages having found neither water nor pasture on their journey, he decided to stay put.

With a sack of maize selling at $40 in this part of Somaliland, most pastoralists cannot afford to buy maize as fodder for their animals so have been looking for alternatives.

Mustafe views cactus as a stopgap measure as he does not see his camels fully thriving on it, although experts confirm that the plants are highly nutritious and also contain high water content.

Cactus And Khat Keep Camels Alive In Somaliland
Mustafe Hassan Diriye collecting cactus in Hargeisa to feed his camels/Ilyas Abdi/Ergo

“The livestock get full on the cactus plants, but we don’t get any milk from them, we are just trying to keep them alive,” he said.

As many other local pastoralists are also collecting cactus in the area, in some places the plants are now being depleted.

He buys water from commercial tankers spending 360,000 Somaliland shillings ($42) on 30 barrels of water every week. With no other source of income, his mother, who runs a shop in Hargeisa, supports him with some money.

Leftover khat leaves are another less common source of emergency animal fodder being used by Abdikadir Hussein Muhumed, who keeps 30 camels in Hargeisa.

He collects khat remnants from restaurants, spending about two hours a night gathering up the small leaves and stems scattered on the floors of various eating premises.

Abdikadir says he cannot afford to buy any other feed for the camels and as they are mostly young animals, he prefers the khat leaves to cactus that could cut their mouths.

“The Deyr rainfall was little and the land became bare, without any vegetation. This forced us to give our livestock khat so that they can survive till the next rainy season,” he said.

Abdikadir, a veteran pastoralist who has reared livestock for 50 years, is worried that if the next rainy season also fails, his camels will not have the strength to migrate to other areas to seek pasture and water. Currently, they are weakened by a long drought and barely produce any milk or meet market standards for sale.

In past dry seasons, he used to buy animal feed but times are too harsh economically to do that this year. His brother, who sells clothes in Hargeisa, helps Abdikadir to buy water once a week for 38,000 shillings ($4) for his herd.

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