Troops restore Somalian farmers' hope Free from bandits, many plant crops

February 08, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

FAHANE, Somalia -- Until a few weeks ago, Haji Shekhey Abdi's people were facing starvation. Civil war combatants had stolen their cattle, their tractors and their food. Terrorized villagers were afraid to work in the fields or take their produce to market.

But Mr. Abdi, his four children, six grandchildren and the rest of the village recently brought in a crop of corn, their first in two years. As they have for centuries, they thanked the god of Islam. But this year they also thanked the United States.

"If the Americans hadn't come, this crop would not be here today," declared Mr. Abdi, a white-whiskered, 75-year-old village elder. "We planted this crop because we couldn't just wait to die. But I never thought we'd be able to harvest it."

The presence of 24,000 U.S. troops and 11,000 soldiers from other nations in Somalia has engendered some controversy, both here and abroad. But one need look no further than Mr. Abdi's five-acre plot to see the leafy results of that international military effort.

Rows of corn, the staple food, stand tall in the fields. The irrigation canals once clogged with silt now are healthy arteries carrying water into the countryside. And, most important, the farmers are in their fields, protected from bandits by a new and intimidating scarecrow, the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army.

Beyond the daily sniper fire and the frustrating search for a political solution in Somalia are successes: The hungry are being fed, most of the sick are being treated and many of the refugees are going home.

In just seven weeks, Operation Restore Hope has quashed the systematic theft of relief food and has helped guide 60 million meals to the 2 million starving Somalis.

"All the relief agencies in the country can safely get food to the people who need it, and that's an enormous breakthrough," said Willet Weeks of Save the Children, which restarted its program here recently.

And now, for the first time amid Somalia's famine, relief agencies are looking beyond food aid to the next step -- weaning the country from donated food, getting farmers back into the fields and launching the agricultural development programs that offer the only realistic hope of putting this country back on its feet.

Some agencies already are planning a "monetization" program, in which they will buy relief food on the local markets for those still needing it, in hopes of encouraging farmers to plant again.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.