Istaahil Mohamed stands near the fireplace in her small restaurant and scoops freshly cooked rice from a pot onto a plate. Hailing from Ceel Xumo village in Burao district, Somaliland, Istaahil has come a long way to be able to serve this spoonful of rice in her own restaurant. She set up, owns and operates both the restaurant and the kiosk next to it, building on a successful venture into farming three years ago supported by FAO and WFP. Today, through this growing “small business empire,” as Istaahil calls it, this 40-year-old mother of four is now able to sustain her family and pay her children’s school fees.
Venturing into farming
Istaahil and her family used to depend on livestock, keeping as many as 20 goats. But after all her goats died following the severe droughts in 2016-2017, she decided to take up farming.
Despite having little knowledge about agriculture, Istaahil saw it as an opportunity to sustain her family, though by no means an easy one. She still remembers carrying jerry cans of water on her back to irrigate her small farm. For the first two years, she could only produce enough for her family’s subsistence.
Then Istaahil came across a Canada-funded, FAO-World Food Programme (WFP) joint initiative that was helping improve the resilience of communities in the area. WFP offered cash transfers for people to work on water catchments, which FAO then upgraded and linked to irrigation systems. “Now, I use water pipes to irrigate the crops,” she says with relief.
FAO also provided Istaahil and the other smallholder farmers in her village with some of the key agricultural resources needed, such as wheelbarrows, watering cans and seedlings, to grow their farms.
Istaahil’s farming really took off after basic agricultural training from WFP, followed by more advanced agricultural training offered by FAO. With this training, as well as the equipment and seeds provided by FAO, Istaahil was able to increase the variety and yield of the crops she produces. Working tirelessly in her small garden, just 12 by 14 metres, she was able to grow different fruit trees and vegetables, including spinach, kale, onions and tomatoes.
As she continued to expand her farm, she started producing surplus to sell at the market. Now, from a good harvest, she can sell 22 kilograms of vegetables on average.
From a garden to a restaurant
Her success in farming allowed her to think bigger and look at ways to diversify her income. “The joint project by FAO and WFP helped us improve our farming skills and becoming more productive. As a result, our small kitchen gardens are now sustaining us beyond what we could have initially thought,” says Istaahil. “I opened a small kiosk with the money I raised from the sale of vegetables.”
She later embarked on an even larger entrepreneurial venture: a restaurant. “I wondered why I shouldn’t start a small restaurant so that I could prepare food by making the most of the vegetables from my kitchen garden,” she says.
Today, Istaahil is very much a businesswoman, using around 80 percent of the fruits and vegetables grown in the garden to supply food for the restaurant. She says this is a quicker way to add value and sell them. The income from the restaurant, kiosk and surplus fruit and vegetable sales is enough to sustain her family, cover her bills and even set aside some savings.
With a farm and two businesses to run, Istaahil is busier than ever. She has hired Abdi, a local young man from the community, to attend to the farm as she operates the two other business. Istaahil has passed on to Abdi the knowledge and skills she acquired from the WFP and FAO training, and he is using what he has learned to manage the farm. Abdi works full time, receiving a monthly a salary plus the benefit of being able to take some vegetables home. In Ceel Xumo village, this is enough to sustain him and his family while saving some money.
Istaahil no longer has to worry about bad harvests because she has managed to diversify her income and increase her resilience. Her small kitchen garden has been the starting point for what she now calls her “small business empire” and allowed her to turn her family’s life around.
The project goes beyond agriculture to support other types of livelihoods as well. FAO, for example, is improving apiaries for beekeeping and working on soil regeneration and fodder production. WFP is also providing families with nutritional support and training to improve diets, infant feeding and hygiene at home.
Istaahil is one of 160 women who benefit from this initiative. Offering expertise from both organizations, FAO and WFP are helping ensure that farmers are in a better position to support themselves and their communities in the long run, helping make their farming more efficient and sustainable. FAO and WFP work closely together, particularly in conflict-affected countries, to ensure that food assistance is linked to agricultural support, saving lives, protecting livelihoods and building the resilience of people and communities.