Case study

New livelihoods bring hope for women in Somalia

Innovative soap and jewellery production creates homegrown businesses in the region

Jewellery crafted from camel bones. Picture: FAO

Jewellery crafted from camel bones. Picture: FAO

In the business of selling meat, Swizzer Mohamed never thought she would use camel by-products to manufacture soap and jewellery. However, thanks to the UK aid funded Sustainable Employment and Economic Development Programme (SEED), Swizzer has seen the most tangible development product ever initiated, in Hargeisa, Somalia.

Swizzer Mohamed holds a finished pack of soap. Picture: FAO

Swizzer Mohamed holds a finished pack of soap. Picture: FAO

Improving livelihoods

The livestock sector employs more than 50% of Somalia’s population. Every year Somalia exports livestock valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. However, Somalia’s domestic meat production industry is yet to fully exploit the potential value from livestock by-products - tonnes of bones are discarded daily.

With UK aid funding, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) teaches Somali women how to make soap from camels’ bone marrow. The soap-making recipe is passed on with the aim to use the valuable livestock by-products and to empower and equip Somali women with skills to improve their livelihoods.

Swizzer talks of her experience with the programme. “I got engaged in the business of selling meat from a very young age as both of my parents were involved. When I joined we used to throw away the bones. Today look at all these people making a living from soap-making.”

“This is a miracle, I never thought we could do this, but today we are producing our own soaps, and even jewellery,” says Swizzer. “We want to expand this facility to other regions, and we are grateful to UK aid for offering this help through the FAO.”

Hope for a better future

Workers at the Somaliland Meat Development Association soap making plant cut bones in preparation for soap making. Picture: FAO

Workers at the Somaliland Meat Development Association soap making plant cut bones in preparation for soap making. Picture: FAO

Somalia is one of the poorest countries in the world with 73% of the population living on less than $2 per day. It is considered a failed state having had no effective government, affected by prolonged civil war characterised by localised clan-based rivalries. For over 20 years, all political, economic, and social activity has by default undergone a process of extreme decentralization.

The first group of women who have successfully finished their training are already working on setting up their own business from the skills accrued from the soap making plant. After 2 decades of war, drought and underdevelopment, Somalia has almost no homegrown industries that produce basic commodities like soap. In Somaliland, less affected by recent conflict, the project represents a glimpse of hope and an example that the rest of the country might follow.

Facts & stats

The SEED programme has already generated 154,127 jobs of which 56,904 are long term jobs in the regions of Somaliland, Puntland and South Central Somalia. 

More than 3,910 women and young people have been trained on livestock and agricultural production. 

Hargeisa livestock and Boroma (Somaliland) meat and Garowe (Puntland) fish markets have been constructed and are managed under public-private partnership, all attributable to the SEED programme. 

SEED is a 4 year programme, with 2 components - market development and investment climate - funded by UK aid from the Department For International Development.  

FAO is the lead agency on the market development component which covers - livestock/ crop farming value chain, fodder/ honey, skills development, fisheries. FAO, ILO, SC and UNDP respectively implement the subcomponents. 

The World Bank is the lead agency on the investment climate component. Limited to Somaliland, the component covers; doing business analysis, financial sector, PPP, fisheries and gum, resin value chains and challenge fund.

Updates to this page

Published 9 January 2013