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(C) SOILS

The possibilities of parts of the high-level country as regards agriculture were first impressed on the writer at Borama, a police-post west of Hargeisa, in Western Somaliland, and subsequent traveling has served to bring about the conviction that with care and patience considerable areas can be used for the cultivation of crops with profit to the owner and ultimately to the Protectorate. At the request of the Governor, a short report was prepared on the soil of the Borama plain, and, as the statements contained in it apply to a great extent to other areas, a summary of the chief of them will give a general idea of the characters on which a favorable impression was based.

Much of the plain supports all the year round a luxuriant vegetation in some parts and abundant grass in others. The rocks of the hilly country surrounding the plain comprise granitic and hornblendic gneisses with intrusions of pink microcline granite, prominent bars and hills of epidiorite, and Jurassic limestones with intercalated clayey and shaly bands. Though no records exist of the actual rainfall, there is no doubt whatever that the surrounding ridges and the plain are subjected during several seasons of the year to heavy falls of rain. The water running down the slopes has, in the course of ages, carried down detritus into small short nullahs, which, deep at their beginning on the high ground, have broadened out and precipitated their solid content to form an alluvial plain. As it is an established fact in other countries with a tropical and semi-tropical climate, that even residual soils of basic hornblendic rocks will, for a time, if the rainfall is sufficient, produce excellent crops of cereals — if varieties suitable to the climate are sown—and luxuriant grass, this alluvium, composed of the thoroughly mixed constituents of potash and phosphorus-bearing acid and basic rocks, clays and limestones, together with vegetable matter, clearly contains many of the essentials of good soil. Moreover, examination of holes and trenches in the plain and inspection of the banks of the lower portions of the nullahs show that the depth of the alluvium is at least three feet and ranges up to ten feet. Cursory examination, also, of the consistency of the soil tends to show that it is neither too sandy nor too clayey, and this is supported by the fact that the water does not at once disappear beneath the surface as on the coastal alluvium, and yet does not remain for considerable periods in shallow pans, that there is always, in the holes and trenches, a fairly thick deposit of silt, and that the grass and vegetation remain green for long periods after a rainy season.

That the soil will produce excellent crops of jowari has already been proved by the Abyssinians. On the Halissa plain to the south of Borama, there are many small agricultural plots, surrounded by zeribas, on which this cereal is grown, to be ultimately, in part at least, sold to the Somali, and the soil of the Halissa plain, though produced from similar rocks, is less completely alluvial than that of Borama.

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Though no search could, owing to the nature of the work in hand, be made for them, other areas were encountered more promising than the Borama plain. Round Gebilay and south of the motor-track, from Hargeisa towards Borama, is a large plain many miles in extent with a soil produced from rocks similar to those at Borama, watered by a periodic rainfall which, though at present of an unknown amount, is nevertheless considerably over ten inches per annum, of considerable depth, and, so far as can be judged without chemical and mechanical analysis and trial, eminently suitable for raising crops. At the present time, part of the plain islet in small plots to Somalis, and on these plots, even with very rudimentary methods of tillage and without the use of fertilizer, good crops of jowari are grown year after year.

At Hargeisa, and between Hargeisa and Haleya, grass and vegetation flourish on a plain of considerable size, and, without appreciable effort abundant crops of jowari are grown by the natives on plots and by tillage similar to those at Gebilay.

Parts of the plateau south of the Golis Range are also conspicuous for grass and vegetation, and considerable areas of cultivable land occur there or could, with little clearing, be brought into existence. This plateau is exceptionally well-watered and sheltered more or less from the southwest monsoon.

While these are the areas met within the course of the Mineral Survey which offer most promise, there is little doubt that others exist of equal or greater extent and of equal promise. The Arori plain, for instance, between Hargeisa and Burao, of many square miles in extent, appears, from reports of various officers, to be eminently suitable either for grazing purposes or for agriculture, provided a water supply for stock and domestic use could be ensured.

As regards the particular plants for which the soils are suitable, there is reason to believe that wheat and similar cereals can be successfully grown on several of the plains, and as excellent coffee is produced in Abyssinia not very far from Hargeisa, there is a prospect that this plant could be cultivated with profit in some localities. It has also been suggested that tobacco could be grown to advantage, especially on the plateau below the Golis scarp.

From the standpoint of agriculture, however, in addition to the nature of the soil, there are other considerations of importance so far as this Protectorate is concerned, to which only a brief reference can be made. These are:

      1. Protection.
      2. Character of the native.
      3. Water supply.
      4. Rainfall.
      5. Communications.
  1. Protection: In the initial stages of the establishment of agriculture, it would probably be necessary for some measure of protection to be ensured for each settlement. This is a matter, however, to be dealt with by the Administration, and beyond the scope of this report.
  2. Character of the native: In the development of agriculture, particularly in a Protectorate with a native population of 280,000, it is obvious that efforts should be directed to inducing the native to take up the work himself both in his own interests and in those of the Protectorate. It is and will continue to be for various reasons undesirable to introduce white immigrants on any but the smallest scale. On the other hand, the laziness of the Somali, his lack of initiative, and his nomadic habits render him at present indifferent to agricultural work, and it is difficult to see how, without special inducement, he can in any numbers be brought to live in fixed settlements and to adopt a fixed mode of life. As he is, however, intelligent and avaricious, it is probable that the required interest in the work could be aroused in time by an appeal to his cupidity through the force of example. Already a fair number of natives cultivate by crude methods small plots of ground to grow jowari, and if it could be shown them by actual example that, whereas by adopting his own methods he obtains his usual small returns, by adopting modern methods his neighbor obtains a return many times greater, there is little doubt that in time he will be prepared to abandon his own in favor of his neighbor’s methods. It will be essential, though, that the example be set him.
  3. Water Supply: The areas mentioned above, except the Arori plain, all have permanent water at no inconvenient distance, either permanent wells or durdurs in the sandy tugs. For settlements, however, it would be necessary to have a larger reserve supply, and this could with no great difficulty be ensured by the provision of dams or reservoirs covered in to prevent contamination and evaporation. The requirements of each area could be satisfied according to local conditions.
  4. Rainfall: In many areas holding out a possibility of agricultural settlement it is a matter of importance to know (a) the average rainfall for the year, (b) the months in which rainfalls and the amount for each month, (c) the amount that falls at any one time. A rain-gauge has been set up by the Medical Department at Burao and Hargeisa, of the hill stations, but there was none at Gebilay or at Borama. In view of possible future development, a gauge should be set up at each of these two posts and an accurate record kept of the registrations.
  5. Communications: A motor track connects Berbera on the coast with Burao, Burao with Hargeisa, and Hargeisa with Gebilay. From Gebilay the track runs to within a few miles from Borama. Again, there is a well-known camel track from Borama to Hargeisa, and from Hargeisa through Hamala Tomalod on the Berbera plain to Berbera. Moreover, a route has been surveyed for a railway line to connect Jigjiga in Abyssinia with Hargeisa and Hargeisa with Berbera. In the event, therefore, of the establishment of agricultural industry in the Hargeisa-Gebilay district or between Burao and Borama, there would be no difficulty in regard to transport.

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