Mining salt is a far cry from herding livestock, but for former pastoralist Abdulqadir Ali Sheikh this new livelihood has become a reliable way of supporting his family of five children, in southern Somalia’s Luq district in Gedo region.
Abdulqadir is one of around 350 young men, mostly dispossessed herders, making a living in the salt caves at Usbo, 40 km north of Luq town. He and his family migrated here two years ago from their native Bakool region, after their entire herd of 180 goats was wiped out in the harsh drought.
“We sell the salt to traders from regions like Bay and Bakool. Sometimes we have a hard time keeping up with demand. We sell in batches of five to 10 sacks at a time,” Abdulqadir told Radio ergo, as he explained how the business works.
“The caves have certain seasons for mining. You dig down one or two metres with shovels, then you remove the sand and leave the water for between two weeks to a month until it evaporates into salt.”
After digging for a year, Abdulqadir invested in taking over 100 caves in the area himself. He and his team fill up to 145 bags of salt during the six months’ season, earning around $900 for distribution among them.
There are around 120 families depending on this trade, with some working as teams although not formally organised into cooperatives.
Mahamud Abdulqadir Hussein, a 31-year-old father of six, made a good enough profit to be able to buy a three-wheeler ‘tuk tuk’ last year. He uses it to transports salt to sell in Luq town. Last year, he said he made a profit of $3,250.
One sack of salt sells for up to $6 in markets in Gedo, Bay, Bakool, and sometimes across the border in the Somali region of Ethiopia.
Mohamed Qasim Abdi, another former livestock herder, told Radio Ergo that he began digging and selling just single bags of salt in Luq, but is now expanding his production to satisfy an eager market.
“It is good quality salt and it has a good taste,” he said.
Mohamed, unable to build a future around livestock, considers his family’s future prospects to be promising based on the salt mining business.