Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Somali farmers stand amid onion and vegetable fields during a weeding exercise near Dollow in south-western Somalia. [Tony Karumba/AFP]
Somali farmers who were long victims of al-Shabaab's forced taxation are returning to their farms along the banks of the Shabelle River.
In the past six months, the Somali National Army, supported by forces from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), succeeded in liberating a number of towns, villages and farming areas from al-Shabaab in the Lower and Middle Shabelle regions.
Yusuf Ahmed, a 47-year-old farmer from the village of Baghdad between Balad and Afgoye, said agricultural areas are witnessing renewed farming activity.
Ahmed, who returned to his village in August after fleeing for Mogadishu two years ago, said al-Shabaab treated farmers with utmost cruelty.
"Al-Shabaab rebels forced farmers who do not support their terrorist acts to pay high taxes that could reach up to half their harvest under the pretext of supporting jihad," he told Sabahi.
"On other occasions, al-Shabaab fighters would threaten us with converting and blocking irrigation channels to our farms and they would ban us from selling our produce -- including fruit such as bananas, mangoes and lemons -- to markets in Mogadishu," he said.
The militants imposed harsh restrictions and did not permit the movement of people and goods to areas controlled by Somali and AMISOM forces.
"Al-Shabaab caused heavy losses for farmers due to its cruel practices, which forced many farmers to leave their villages and refrain from farming. This resulted in a loss of agricultural production in the area," he said, adding that he is prepared to resume farming without fear of al-Shabaab.
Mohamud Ibrahim, a farmer who lives in the city of Awdhegle in Lower Shabelle, said much has changed since farmers were barred from working when al-Shabaab controlled the area.
"Now, the situation is much better than it was in previous years since farmers can go back to the farms they were forced to leave behind because of the militants' barbarism, as they blackmailed farmers for money," he told Sabahi.
Lower Shabelle Governor Abdikadir Mohamed said the expulsion of al-Shabaab fighters from farming areas on the banks of the Shabelle River has given farmers hope of returning to their fields to freely resume their work.
"During its control of the area, al-Shabaab would terrorise farmers and force them to pay high taxes in the name of zakat so they could use this money to finance their terrorist operations," he said. "I would like to urge the Somali National Army and AMISOM to continue their military operation against al-Shabaab to liberate Somalia completely from radical groups."
Maow Hussein, a 43-year-old farmer in the village of Basra, 16 kilometres from Afgoye, said farmers have started to return to their fields on the banks of the Shabelle River.
"After liberating the town from al-Shabaab four months ago, villagers and farmers who left the area because of threats and oppression from the militants have been able to return to their farms again," he told Sabahi.