Connect to share and comment

Somaliland fosters trade in frankincense and myrrh

Fabled aromatic resins are produced in Somalia's peaceful north and sold round the world.

The trees grow on farms owned by smallholders who cut the bark and allow the gum to seep out and harden over days. The gooey nuggets are harvested over weeks and piled into 90-pound sacks that are loaded onto donkeys and camels for the rocky journey to a nearby village.

The harvested gums are then laid on plastic sheeting in mud huts to dry while the farmers wait for a truck that will take the dried resins to the main gum market at Burao where they are traded and processed for export. From Burao most gums are driven by road to Somaliland’s Berbera port for export to Europe or the Arabian Peninsula.

Other regions where frankincense and myrrh are produced include parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and the Arab peninsula.

The woodlands on the northern slopes of the Golis Mountains where the trees grow are a rare sight in this arid, semi-desert country watered by just two rivers, both far from the south of the country.

“The mist forests of the Golis Mountains of the northern regions are the only true forest areas of Somalia and are important centers of biological diversity and species edemism,” according to a study of the area by the United Nations Environment Program.

But they are under threat from man-made changes both local and global, endangering the trees that have bled frankincense and myrrh for thousands of years.

The worldwide problem of climate change here thins the clouds of nourishing moisture that blow up from the Gulf of Aden, meaning there is less and less water to nourish the trees. Meanwhile deforestation is also taking its toll as trees are chopped down for charcoal to supply the growing fuel needs of a rapidly expanding population.

Resin producer Guelle, however, remains optimistic: "This is a good business and one with a great future," he said. "It may take some time but my dream is to begin distilling the gums, then things will really take off."