The protection of the natural environment in Somalia is a cause that few are brave enough to take on. One woman is. Without a stable government, Somalia has endured decades of environmental degradation, as well as illegal logging and fishing off the Somali coast. As a result, the natural environment is a cause in dire need of advocates. Fortunately, it has a formidable one in Adeso founder Fatima Jibrell.

Born into a nomadic pastoralist family in Somalia, Fatima Jibrell’s story is one of love for her people and the environment that supports their way of life. In 1991, Fatima founded Adeso (then called the Horn of Africa Relief and Development Organization) to turn her vision of peace and conservation into reality.

Today, her work with Adeso and several other NGOs means Fatima is regarded as one of Somalia’s most notable and respected environmental activists.

Pioneering Work

From the very beginning, Adeso, with Fatima at its helm, mobilized local and international resources to protect Somalia’s fragile pastoral environment. The challenges then, as now, were significant. Pastoralists relied heavily on a healthy environment to endure Somalia’s unpredictable and harsh climate. Yet the impact of the civil war led to the breakdown of natural resource management systems, jeopardizing a traditional way of life. It was Fatima who saw the connection between peace, women’s empowerment, resource protection, and the need to equip communities with skills – an understanding that continues to drive the work of Adeso today.

“Somalia is basically a desert and inhabitants must learn to share water and other resources, otherwise our country will never know peace.”

Fatima also worked hard to coordinate environmental groups in Somalia to bring about greater change. One of her most notable accomplishments was ending the charcoal trade in Northeast Somalia. Fatima united people and groups through a network she co-founded in 1996; one that crossed clans and regions in Somalia. She tirelessly advocated for an end to the charcoal trade, which used the region’s acacia trees to make charcoal destined for the Middle East. Through her advocacy and coordination, the Puntland Government prohibited the export of charcoal through the Bosaso Port in 2002.

In advocating for a charcoal ban, Fatima quickly realized that she needed to find an alternative fuel for household cooking. She co-founded Sun Fire Cooking to promote the use of the butterfly-design parabolic solar cooker. The organization has widely distributed their solar cookers in Northeast Somalia and Djibouti.

A Unique Approach

Fatima’s focus on using local resources and encouraging community-led change has driven much of her work and that of Adeso. Her introduction of the “rock dam” initiative in Somalia exemplifies this approach.

The land in Somalia is rocky and dry with little topsoil. During the rainy season, water often rushes down from the region’s many hills and ridges. By organizing communities to pile rocks where the water gathers, Fatima’s rock dams create the conditions needed for plants, shrubs and small trees to germinate. Even today when traveling in the bush, Fatima often stops to inspect the rock dams to see which communities are caring for their local environments.

A Lasting Legacy

Fatima’s work to build peace, advocate for better environmental practices, and protect the livelihoods of Somalia’s pastoralists was recognized in 2002 when she was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize (insert video), the most prestigious grassroots environmental award. In 2007, Fatima’s work earned her more international acclaim and she won the National Geographic/Buffet Award for Leadership in African Conservation.

More recently, Fatima was awarded the 2014 Champions of the Earth award for her tireless effort to protect Somalia’s fragile pastoral environment. The award is the United Nations’ flagship environment award that recognizes outstanding visionaries and leaders in the fields of policy, science, entrepreneurship and civil society action.