Smiling girls

Michael Tsegaye

Barud is a 42-year-old father of seven children that lives in Charati town in Ethiopia’s Somali region, a largely inaccessible area characterised by conflict, low rainfall and drought. Like much of Somali region, many people in the Charati district earn their living as pastoralists – herding cattle, goats, sheep and camels on the open plains.

However, a changing climate, drought, the degradation of pastures, and livestock disease are making this way of life increasingly challenging – threatening poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition amongst local households. With the help of the Civil Society Support Programme (CSSP), local civil society organisation Pastoralist Concern is helping local people like Barud to develop alternative livelihoods based on fishing in the Weyib River, in so doing contributing a valuable source of nutrition to the area’s residents. This required Pastoralist Concern to challenge local traditional beliefs and taboos that considered fish consumption as unfavourable.

Pastoralist Concern’s approach to promoting fish farming

Barud knows how difficult challenging this taboo is more than most. Having fled his home at the peak of Ethio-Somali war in 1977, Barud found work preparing food in restaurants in Somalia.  On returning to Charati he found work as a chef in a local restaurant.  ‘Really it was difficult work’ states Barud, ‘the payment provided just one meal per day for my family, yet I did it for 6-years as there were no alternative job opportunities. One day the idea of fish harvesting came to my mind.’

It was when trying to sell his catch that Barud encountered discrimination. ‘My customers were the very few people who had experienced fish eating in Somalia’ he recalls. ‘I did not feel safe – the neighbours threw stones at my house during the night, children threw stones at me when they saw me carrying fish, whilst their parents shouted insults at me’ notes Barud.

It was when Pastoralist Concern started to run public awareness activities about fish production and consumption, as part of their CSSP-supported fish farming project, that things started to improve for Barud. ‘When Pastoralist Concern started conducting massive awareness creation and public mobilisation about eating fish there was attitudinal change.’

Changing attitudes, improving nutrition

Pastoralist Concern received a CSSP Innovation Grant and capacity building in 2013 to promote fishing on the Weyib River as an alternative livelihood for former pastoralists in Charati, and in so doing providing a vital source of nutrition for the local population. The civil society organisation undertook public meetings with local decision makers to break down traditional barriers to fish consumption – engaging local government and religious leaders to promote fish consumption, offering public demonstrations of fish recipes, and distributing flyers on fish and nutrition in the local Somali language.  Twenty local people were trained in fish harvesting and marketing – namely of Blackfish, Tilapia and Catfish found in the Weyib River – and cooperatives were set up and registered to ensure on-going business development.

‘The project organised me and others into cooperatives and gave us support both technically and financially’ reflects Barud. ‘With the help of the project I changed to selling fried fish that was more attractive to local people.’  This has yielded positive results for Barud and his colleagues, ‘during the first six months of the project, I earned enough money to construct my own house and buy 30 goats.’

Most importantly perhaps, the project has helped to expand nutritional possibilities in this food insecure region by taking steps to challenge traditional taboos regarding eating fish. Barud smiles, ‘a lot of pastoralist men are now fishing with me, and they carry fish as I do.  Now there is no way that they feel inferior or disgraced.’

This story of change is from the Civil Society Support Programme 1.