Barkhado, age 35, El Barde, Somalia*
Frankincense has been traded across the Red Sea and the Arabian peninsula for over 6,000 years. It is central to many religious ceremonies, and was one of the three precious gifts brought to the infant Jesus in the story of the Nativity. Today 90 per cent of the world’s production of frankincense comes from the Horn of African—predominantly from the border communities on the Somalia-Ethiopia border. It is essential to Somalia's economy and many vulnerable families rely on it to earn an income.
But in the remote border district of El Barde the presence of landmines prevents local residents from harvesting the frankincense trees. The minefields were laid during the inter-state wars between Somalia and Ethiopia. More than four decades later, they continue to destroy lives and livelihoods.
A PRECARIOUS EXISTENCE
The families of El Barde are pastoralists. But their reliance on livestock as a source of income leaves them vulnerable to the seasonal variations and climatic shocks that continue to devastate entire regions of Africa. For the past three years, the area has been hit by successive droughts, killing precious livestock and leaving families unable to put food on the table.
The existence of the minefields creates a further threat. Xirsi, a local herder, tells HALO he lost a cow worth $USD350 and a donkey worth $USD200 in a mine accident. This is equivalent to more than two months wages and the loss of just a few animals can tip a nomadic community into destitution.
THE GIFT OF FRANKINCENSE
Frankincense trees can be tapped for their resin, which is sold at market to make essential oils. The frankincense production calendar is almost year-long, meaning it brings consistent income and reduces reliance on the seasonal revenue of livestock. For the community of El Barde, the frankincense trees could provide a more secure future, but the presence of landmines has made it impossible to cultivate them.
In April 2020, HALO began clearing the minefields that surround El Barde. Once the work is finished, local residents like Aaden—who has lived here for the past decade—will be able to use the land without fear and the harvesting of frankincense can be restored.
Aaden, age 32, El Barde, Somalia
*Please note, names have been changed to protect people's privacy.