In 2014, Khaalid Ahmed Awali (’18, Somaliland) excitedly learned he had been admitted to EARTH University. The moment was made even sweeter when he heard that his friend Saeed Mohamud Farah (’18, Somaliland), too, had been admitted. Both fully funded as Mastercard Foundation scholars, eagerly traveled to Costa Rica to study agricultural engineering.
During their third year of studies, Khaalid and Saeed returned to their home country to complete a professional internship. When they arrived, Somaliland was struggling through a devastating drought. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, by April 2017, more than 135,000 Somalis and Somalilanders had fled their homes to seek refuge and food security. Only six years earlier, a drought had killed 250,000 people throughout the “Horn of Africa”. Having lived through that chaos, the students partnered to devise a solution that would benefit the millions suffering from the recurring threat.
The many questions arisen during their three-month internship were answered when Khalid and Saeed returned to Costa Rica to finish their degree. Considering Somaliland’s economy depends on animal exports, the duo sought an innovative way to support smallholder cattle farmers. After extensively researching three types of Brachiaria grass for their Graduation Project, they ultimately concluded that Mulato II – a proprietary, hybridized variety – should be grown in their country for grazing. Requiring little water and able to withstand extremely dry conditions, the deep-rooted plant can easily be cut, stored, and used to feed livestock during the harshest dry spells.
Once they both returned to Somaliland in December 2018, as EARTH graduates, they decided to operationalize their project. Thanks to a Mastercard Foundation grant and a local farmer’s willingness to lend them a land parcelon which to experiment, AquaCalaf was born. “We want people to understand the importance of storing forage when there is rain, because at any moment we will face another drought,” says Khaalid. “What we’re creating is a model that can be replicated anywhere else. More than 100 people have already visited us to learn from us and work with us. We want them to understand that they can plant their own fodder and use better production techniques. If they do that, they will have fewer problems during droughts.”
In Somali, calaf means “food” as well as “what is reserved for you”. Khaalid and Saeed’s project teaches smallholder farmers to develop the habit of reserving animal feed in case of water shortage. Khalid says this is also how they can improve livelihoods within their country’s rural communities.
After seven months of fieldwork, their test pasture – like their ideas – is flourishing. Khaalid and Saeed are two examples of the leaders the world needs to face global problems and create a better future for all.