Bees, tractors and entrepreneurs: Supporting economic resilience in Somalia
Belet Weyne – It is 6:00 a.m. and Mohamed Dhicis is up and ready for work. Dressed in a thick, white cotton canvas suit, which covers his entire body, he walks into the apiary housing tens of thousands of bees.
When he reaches the beehives, he kneels and remains in place, contemplating the swirling activity before him. After a few minutes, using a metal tool, the 19-year-old opens the top part of the first box. He delicately pulls out the honey-soaked net within, almost as if he were opening a box of chocolates. Immediately, the atmosphere is filled with a buzzing sound, and thousands of bees fly out and around the box. Some of them, as if stuck with glue, stay on the net, making honey.
This honey is what sustains the livelihoods of Mr. Dhicis and the four other beekeepers that work for him at the Dhicis Production Company, which he founded with the support and guidance of Somalia’s Ministry of Commerce and Industries (MoCI) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
The support comes under the umbrella of UNIDO’s agro-technology project, which helps aspiring Somali businesspeople develop micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and increase their access to finance, and also provides institutional support to the MoCI.
In 2020, in his birth city of Belet Weyne, located in the Hiran region of central Somalia, Mr. Dhicis heard about a credit facility that UNIDO had established to help SMEs access financing. The facility was established in Belet Weyne through UNIDO’s Productive Sectors Development Joint Programme for Somalia. Mr. Dhicis had been working as a small-scale bee farmer. After learning about the programme and attending a two-week enterprise management training on how to start a business, he decided to jump straight in.
“I love honey, and I have a background in agricultural production,” he says. “So I said to myself: why not give it a try?”
After the training, he received business counselling from UNIDO that involved preparing his own business plan to start his honey-making business, which he presented to the credit facility. He then received $5,000 to help make his dream a reality. When Mr. Dhicis started in 2020, he had 25 beehives. Today, he has 100 and hopes to grow this number to 200.
Behind Mr. Dhicis’ bee business lies an EDU, or Enterprise Development Unit, that UNIDO helped established in Belet Weyne through the Somali Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) and with the financial support of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation. This EDU is one of an extensive network of EDUs established across Somalia, within the structure of the SCCI. EDUs provide a link between entrepreneurs and the private sector across the country’s Federal Member States, and help Somali entrepreneurs access investors, credit facilities, skills training and business counselling.
More than bees
Mr. Dhicis is not alone in benefitting from the EDU. He attended his UNIDO-supported business induction training in Belet Weyne with 64 other entrepreneurs, all of whom had existing businesses or start-up ideas. Of the 64, 13 SME projects received bank loans amounting to a combined total of $100,000. Three of them are led by women.
The possibility of financial support is just one factor. According to UNIDO, some of the Somali entrepreneurs are simply interested in understanding business management, learning more about inventories, or rethinking how to run their business through faster production, cost reductions, and other methods.
The two-week training programme provides the entrepreneurs with enough knowledge to establish a new business or expand an existing one. The training is followed by one-to-one business counselling offered by UNIDO-trained local experts.
The individual counselling programme consists of on-site advice and guidance to start-ups and existing enterprises. To existing business owners, this means better management skills, more control over their budgets and a capacity to diagnose business problems. To start-ups, it means reading the market, generating business ideas and knowing how to communicate these to investors.
“When you look at the early stages of an economy’s development, there are certain basic products that you need to have in order for society to live, work and eat. You also need the infrastructure to make the system work. And, in addition, you need capital investment to kickstart that development, which usually comes from the government. UNIDO has created the network, the system and the capacity for that investment to happen,” says Ygor Scarcia, an industrial development expert with UNIDO who also serves as its representative in Somalia.
Professor Cisse Halane is the SCCI’s Deputy Managing Director and is in charge of the network of EDUs. According to him, the network helps entrepreneurs receive loans that they will have to pay back – a key element that moves Somalia away from the traditional aid dilemma in which receivers do not have the incentive to make money, knowing that aid will be coming no matter what.
In addition to breaking the aid cycle, Professor Halane said: “That money coming back to the bank is then going to be given to another businessperson, leading to a ripple effect beneficial to Somalia’s economy.”
Part of the services provided through the EDUs involve technology promotion. The trainees are not considered to be beneficiaries, but rather business clients, ensuring the sustainability of the EDU network. Those who graduate from the training receive support with investments, business matchmaking and technology sourcing.
Amina-Gaalooge Osman, a 34-year-old entrepreneur, started an agricultural cooperative that used manual labour. Thanks to UNIDO’s help in connecting her to local banks and to Somali-Italian business firms, today Ms. Osman sells tractors imported from Italy to Somalia’s farmers. It is the first time in recent history that the farming business in Somalia has gained access to such modern agricultural machinery ― vital in propelling the economy.
“If you have the idea, they [UNIDO and the MoCI] will help you,” Ms. Osman says. “The real value comes when they connect you directly to international companies like the ones we are now dealing with. If you have an organization like UNIDO that can help you make that connection for you, that can help you with the credit facility, you have a way forward. You can basically make your dreams come true.”
From aid to development
Both UNIDO and the MoCI are investing in Somalia’s more traditional agro-industrial sectors, which the country relies on to create jobs and expand economic opportunities. Their overarching goal is to help Somalia develop its business sector and thus shift away from a heavy reliance on international aid for temporary relief. The key for making this happen? Partnerships.
“To me, aid is problematic. We have the land, we have the human capital, and we have the entrepreneurial spirit,” says Professor Halane. “Partnerships are the only way forward.”
UNIDO’s Somalia Productive Sectors Development Programme promotes interventions at the macro, meso and micro levels of the Somali economy to promote infrastructure investment and capital investment, stimulate sustainable production, avoiding post-harvest losses, developing markets access for an inclusive economic growth and job opportunities for all.
“The goal is to reinforce Somalia’s economic resilience while reducing the country’s vulnerability to shocks,” Mr. Scarcia said. “And we do this by stimulating economic growth and by developing Somali human capital.”
The thousands of bees buzzing around Mr. Dhicis at his firm’s apiary are the result of that goal.
He smiles at seeing the bees’ nets, and twists shut ten jars of honey that he places carefully, one by one, in a large carton box, which he seals to prepare for transport to Belet Weyne town for the next morning’s market.