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Somali Livestock Traders Count Losses After Hajj Cancellation Due to COVID-19

FILE - Somali people buy goats at a livestock market in Mogadishu, Somalia, Aug. 10, 2019.
FILE - Somali people buy goats at a livestock market in Mogadishu, Somalia, Aug. 10, 2019.

Somalia's livestock industry has been reeling since Saudi Arabia canceled the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, because of COVID-19.

Somalia earns the majority of its export earnings from livestock, and it normally sells millions of cattle and goats to Saudi Arabia to feed pilgrims at the hajj.

Hassan Farah, a livestock trader in southern Somalia, typically would be a busy man at this time of year, loading ships bound for Persian Gulf countries with livestock. But this year, he said, the coronavirus has destroyed his business.

Farah, 42, said that before the virus struck, "we used to export livestock. We used to get our livelihood. Then the virus came, and everything we are doing came to a stop. Here in Lower Juba, we would export livestock two, three times a month, but now we export once every three months."

According to a 2019 Veterinary Medicine and Science report, Saudi Arabia imports upward of 3 million goats, sheep, cattle and camels during the hajj season. Somali traders supply a large number of the animals.

Khalid Saeed, a livestock coordinator for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Somalia, said that despite the virus and restrictions, Somali traders were able to export at least 1.3 million animals in four months this year. He said that from April to the end of July, the value of animals exported to the Middle East would be about $90 million to $95 million.

However, Abdiaziz Bashir Adan, Kismayo livestock director, said that was a low number compared with figures from previous years.

He said livestock traders target a time like this during the hajj period, and that the cancellation of the pilgrimage had made the situation worse, hurting prices. For example, he said, a goat that was going for $70 to $80 now was being sold for $50 and the cancellation of the pilgrimage was to blame.

According to the World Bank, Somalia has an estimated 53 million head of livestock, which account for about 75 percent of Somalia's exports.

The pandemic has left tens of thousands of families without an income and little hope of making a living unless COVID-19 is brought under control.