Up to one million sheep and goats crowd vast, smelly pens across three quarantine stations in the searing heat and desert wind outside Somaliland’s ancient Red Sea port town of Berbera.
During the weeks of the peak season, a steady stream of the finest animals have arrived from markets around the Horn of Africa to be shipped across the Gulf of Aden toSaudi Arabia, destined for ceremonial slaughter in the lead-up to this month’s annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca and the Eid al-Adha celebrations that will fall onSeptember 12.
Somaliland is a breakaway territory in northern Somalia that declared itself independent in 1991 but remains internationally unrecognised. It has one of the lowest gross domestic products per head in the world and a youth unemployment rate pushing 70 percent.
Livestock production is the backbone of Somaliland’s fragile economy with up to 80 percent of the territory’s export income generated by sales of sheep, goat, camel and cattle.
Around 5.3 million animals were exported throughout 2015 from greater Somalia’s three fractured territories of Somaliland, Puntland and South Central, constituting a six percent increase on the previous year according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Between Berbera and the neighbouring ports of Djibouti and Bosaso, this trade movement of live animals is one of the largest in the world.
In May this year, Dubai-based global ports company DP World won an historic bid to expand, operate and manage the Berbera port for a period of 30 years in a landmark deal worth $442m.
The project aims to boost trade for underdeveloped Somaliland, open a trade corridor connecting landlocked Ethiopia to the Red Sea and take pressure off neighbouring Djibouti, one of the busiest ports in Africa.
Hargeisa livestock market, one of the largest in the Horn of Africa and a crucial business hub for pastoralists trading their goats, sheep and camels to brokers who sell them on for export. Seventy percent of Somaliland’s population live in rural areas and depend on livestock-rearing for their income. [Ashley Hamer/Al Jazeera]
Somaliland has existed with de facto independence since 1991. Livestock is the lifeblood of its fragile economy and over four million animals are exported yearly, mostly to Saudi Arabia during the annual Hajj. Once purchased in Hargeisa market, the animals are trucked from the capital to the port city of Berbera. [Ashley Hamer/Al Jazeera]
The Somali black-headed or Berberawi sheep is particularly prized throughout the Arabian peninsula for its organic rearing and because many people believe it to represent the flocks of Abraham. During Hajj season, individual animals fetch over $80. [Ashley Hamer/Al Jazeera]
The animals destined for export are quarantined for up to two weeks at Berbera port. During the busy Hajj season, there can be as many as one million sheep and goats across three quarantine stations, where they are screened for diseases and checked that they meet the requirements of the import countries. [Ashley Hamer/Al Jazeera]
Berbera today is an ancient but under-developed trade port. A landmark deal in May between the Somaliland government and Dubai ports giant, DP World, will see the port extended and infrastructure improved over a 30-year period. [Ashley Hamer/Al Jazeera]
Berbera’s economy revolves around livestock exports and small-scale fishing. Cluttering the harbour lie sunken wrecks that incoming ships must avoid and will be removed when port expansion work begins, according to officials. [Ashley Hamer/Al Jazeera]
Somali and Yemeni fishermen bring their day’s catch ashore by hand. Fishermen in Berbera are uncertain how the port expansion deal will benefit them and whether there will be increased investment in Somaliland fisheries. [Ashley Hamer/Al Jazeera]
There are few cold storage facilities and ice production is expensive. Fish are loaded in the back of vans right on the jetty and driven as fast as possible to destination towns hours away in searing outdoor temperatures. [Ashley Hamer/Al Jazeera]
Mohammed Sayeed has been fishing in Berbera for 18 years, he says the waters of the Gulf of Aden are rich. He hopes the new port deal will bring locals more opportunities but some are worried that the deal has been agreed without sufficiently consulting them. [Ashley Hamer/Al Jazeera]
The livestock are loaded onto vast carriers from the same jetty amid containers and shipping equipment. The boats can carry more than 65,000 animals at a time, which are loaded onboard at night to avoid scorching daytime temperatures. [Ashley Hamer/Al Jazeera]
According to Ali Mohammed Guleid, Berbera port veterinary officer, international standards state there cannot be more than four animals packed per metre squared onboard. Guleid is responsible for inspecting carriers to ensure they are suitably ventilated and the animals fed and watered. [Ashley Hamer/Al Jazeera]
It is a three-day journey on the packed carrier to Saudi Arabia where most of the animals will be slaughtered as part of the Eid al-Adha in September, one of the most important holy festivals in the Islamic calendar. [Ashley Hamer/Al Jazeera]