• June 16, 2014

Robin Hammond: The Largest Trade “On The Hoof”

As part of a story for National Geographic about agriculture in Africa appearing in the July 2014 issue, photographer Robin Hammond made a stop in Somaliland to learn more about how the region exports 1.3 million sheep and goats during the annual Hajj. The answer: On very crowded and very smelly boats.

Somaliland is not recognized as an independent country by the UN, rather, as an autonomous region of Somalia. According to the World Bank, it has the fourth-lowest GDP in the world, and the majority of its people depend on livestock, either directly or indirectly, for their livelihood.

Picture of: Sheep and goats at a market in Somaliland
Sheep and goats are brought from around the region to the Burao Livestock Market. Traders use a system of holding fingers to indicate the price they are willing to accept. Negotiations are made in secret under a scarf.

Hammond visited animal trading markets in the towns of Hargeisa and Burao, where livestock traders have carved out a unique niche for themselves. They sell their goats and sheep to brokers, who then sell them overseas to pilgrims headed to Mecca for the annual Hajj. While livestock—including cattle and camels—are exported year-round from Somaliland, the seasonal Hajj is the busiest time of year.

Picture of: Sheep and goats at a market in Somaliland
Animals are purchased for local consumption and export at the Hargeisa Livestock Market. The average selling price is between $75-90 USD for a sheep or goat, and on a busy day thousands of animals can be sold.

From the markets, brokers take the animals to the port city of Berbera, where more than 300,000 animals at a time are quarantined before being shipped overseas. There, the animals receive ear tags, are vaccinated for Rift Valley Fever, and are tested for Brucellosis—a bacterial disease. Animals that test positive are separated from the group.

Picture of: Sheep and goats at a quarantine in Somaliland
Sheep and goats are held at the Berbera National Health Quarantine, which has the capacity to hold 120,000 animals. Over 50% of Somaliland’s GDP is made up of livestock exports. Most of these animals start their journey from the port of Berbera, destined for Saudi Arabia, in time for the annual Hajj.

“It’s extremely hot, extremely dry and extremely dusty. You are hanging around hundreds of thousands of goats, so it’s really quite smelly,” says Hammond. “I walked with the animals as the sun was setting, and the dust was coming up. To some degree I was successful in capturing the scale of it, but the river of animals kept on going and going. People didn’t understand why I was taking so many pictures.”

The goats and sheep are fed and watered at the quarantine, then moved at night to prevent heat exhaustion towards the boats that take them to Saudi Arabia and surrounding countries. Only male animals are exported to protect Somaliland’s industry, and Hammond says the meat is prized by halal butchers for it’s quality.

Picture of: Sheep and goats being herded toward the port
Sheep and goats walk from Berbera National Health Quarantine to the port of Berbera, where they will be herded onto ships bound for Saudi Arabia. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that $250 million worth of animals will leave the port and its more ramshackle rival, Bossaso, in the seven weeks before the Hajj.

At the port, the animals are herded onto the boats, some of which can hold 85,000 animals.

“They take the animals in, they go into pens insides the ships, it’s dark, lit with bulbs, the ceiling is very low, you have to crouch as you walk through,” says Hammond. “The ships are designed to carry as many animals as they can—there are guys in there herding the sheep and pushing them into the far corners of the boat.”

Picture of: Animals being herded onto a boat
Animals are herded onto the ship AL-BARAKA.5 bound for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The ship can hold almost 85,000 animals. This is the third sailing during the 2013 high season—September 21st to October 14th.

Hammond says the export of animals through Berbera and neighboring Bosasso and Djibouti represents the largest of movement of live animal trade “on the hoof” anywhere in the world.

Despite years of civil war and a population plagued by poverty, Hammond says the export of animals from Somaliland is one small success story for the economy of the region.

As for Hammond himself, he says after the assignment was over, “For two or three days I smelled like a goat.”

Robin Hammond has dedicated his career to documenting human rights and development issues around the world through long-term photographic projects.

He is the recipient of the W. Eugene Smith Fund for Humanistic Photography, a World Press Photo prize, the Pictures of the Year International World Understanding Award and four Amnesty International awards for Human Rights journalism. See more of his work on his website, including the project “Condemned—Mental Health in African Countries in Crisis.”

See more of Hammond’s pictures from the July 2014 feature “The Next Breadbasket.” This story is part of National Geographic‘s special eight-month “Future of Food” series.

There are 17 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. sharmarke
    July 4, 2014

    God, the Creator of human beings and animals, has made animals subservient to us.

    Genesis 9:2-3
    And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.

    And the cattle, He has created them for you. You have in them warm clothing and (other) advantages, and of them you eat. And therein is beauty for you, when you drive them back (home) and when you send them out (to pasture). And they carry your heavy loads to regions which you could not reach but with great distress to yourselves. Surely your Lord is Compassionate, Merciful. And (He made) horses and mules and asses that you might ride upon them and as an ornament. And He creates what you know not.” (Quran 16:5-8)

    Anyhow beautiful photos and nice article

  2. nengak
    July 3, 2014

    Hey guys, there was no picture of the animals being slaughtered or not. We can make up our minds about that. But I thought it was funny how they transact under the scarf, why shouldn’t folks know how much the animals are being sold for?

  3. Douglas Murray
    June 29, 2014

    Very interesting

  4. shane lover
    June 20, 2014

    GOD ANYMANS God DID NOT make animals to be slaughtered that’s MANS words you can live healthy & happy without harming others wake up evolve ..its time for peace on earth for all beings ..this is tragic cruelty

  5. mwenda Eusatce
    June 19, 2014

    In as much as they are nice pictures and halaal meat is the order of the day in muslim countries believe the animals are supposed to be handled in a most human manner till after slaughter but I don’t think if this is being adhered to these animals. Let them put measures please. I grow animals myself than you.

  6. cheema
    June 18, 2014

    comon guys….GOD made these animals for human food.if u veg.then u r missing a lot.and we slaughter in makkah during Hajj.for the memory of prophet Abraham (A.S)
    70 % of world’s population eat meat of sheeps and goats but there is still trillion of sheeps in this world.and u will never listen any1 to say that these r going to end like lions,tigers,panda’s and hundred of animals are vanishing from our earth.even no body eat dogs and one bitch can bring 7 to 10 puppies in every 6 month but u will not see them more then few.GOD made these Halal animals for human food.enjoy it.

  7. Magda
    June 17, 2014

    So you’re a supporter of human right? Great….. but how about then looking at the rights of the animals? Please don’t choose one over the other. Animals are no less important than humans and do NOT deserve what is happening to them. I’m frankly really disappointed that you didn’t document the exploitation and trauma these animals must go through. Human rights should go hand in hand with animal rights

  8. David Louis Wall
    June 17, 2014

    Dear God stop this awful sad lives for animals and humans please end the suffering.

  9. Clémence
    June 17, 2014

    I think Hajj is a muslim tradition during which you have to sacrified an animal, reason (or one of the reason) why they bring them alive

  10. aydin doger
    June 17, 2014

    This is cruelty to animals. …Must All Animals be counted as dollars,?Can’t we count them as lively beings?

  11. monika siess
    June 17, 2014

    David, as the animals are for hajj, they have to be alive, to be slaughtered in hajj directely. The meat goes to the poor.

  12. jennifer o’sullian
    June 17, 2014

    stunning photography, would love to have been there myself

  13. David
    June 17, 2014

    That would make more sense to slaughter them and export them fresh or frozen. It would also create extra jobs…

  14. shamsundarjg
    June 17, 2014


  15. Justin dyer
    June 17, 2014

    They must be very well organised to get all those livestock out on boats in such a short time. It is a credit to those farmers to be so and hit the market with top dollar.

  16. Ali Osman
    June 17, 2014

    Good pictures

  17. Elvira Fishta
    June 16, 2014

    It will be better and less trauma, if those animals not taken alive, but as frozen meat !

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