Expanded Garden in Assamo Landscape, Djibouti. Photo by John Ajjugo

Assamo Landscape in Djibouti: Resilience in adversity

Hostile environment transformed

By John Ajjugo, Horn of Africa Climate Change Programme Officer, Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre and Network, Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia.

The Assamo landscape is located in the Ali-Sabieh region in the southeastern part of Djibouti at the border between Ethiopia and Somaliland (Somalia), some 20 kilometers South-East of Ali-Sabieh town and 120 kilometers from Djibouti City. The Assamo Landscape covers an area of about 350 square kilometers of rough terrain and is characterized by high mountain peaks and deep valleys. The geography of Djibouti is that of plateaus, plains, expansive volcanic debris, mountain ranges and deep craters.

Average rainfall varies between 100 to 200 millimeters a year with a high local variability, which cannot support farming activity. There is very little arable soil — 89 percent of the country is desert with 10 percent pastureland, and only 1 percent (shrub) forest cover, according to statistics cited by the International Institute for Sustainable Development. Djibouti experiences a multi-annual drought. Temperatures have increased in the past three decades from 0.5 to 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the World Bank.

As in the nature of desert to semi-arid conditions, the Assamo community is faced with a lack of arable land and access to water, soil erosion/weathering, salinization, deforestation of the few standing shrubs among others. The approximately 500 people of the Assamo landscape (Djibouti) are mainly nomadic herders but have over the years started to settle and practice agro-pastoralists livelihood patterns mainly centered on orchards and irrigated horticulture, which are providing new income opportunities. This is practiced along the Guestir catchment, one of the important seasonal dry streams in the Assamo Landscape, which covers an area of approximately 200 square kilometers.

For the Assamo community, it was the innovative spirit of one elderly man, Daher Obsieh also nicknamed “Gach-Bach” who pioneered this alternative livelihood system, which would be a great source of resilience to a community living in this hostile environment.

Daher had spent much of 10 years of his life traversing across Africa, Europe and the United States without settling; it was in this Assamo landscape that he finally settled and found home and new ideas born of his international tours.

The journey through this livelihood transition was not without challenges and contempt for Daher. The first time the local community saw him digging this dry land they were surprised by this strange behavior – he was considered a “madman.”

Today Assamo Landscape has more than 70 orchard farms and horticultural gardens, thanks to Daher.

Fruits ranging from mangoes, guava, lemon, oranges, tomatoes, onions and other vegetables named them are produced here to supply Djibouti city. In the landscape, households have constructed sunken wells on the wadis (riverbeds) to extract water for irrigation initially using generators.

Starting from 2014 with the funding support of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the Horn of Africa Climate Change Programme (HoA-CCP) these farms have been expanding.

Diesel powered water pumps have now been replaced by solar powered pumps to reduce cost and increase production and supply the Djibouti markets. These smart agricultural practices have been taken up by the Assamo community.

HoA-CCP is a program implemented by the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre and Network based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and executed by the civil society organizations working in six countries in the Horn of Africa, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia (Somaliland), South Sudan and the Sudan.



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