In the small village of Qaamqaam near the southern port city of Kismayo, there is a crooked, leafless acacia tree in the middle of Cantar Hussein’s house.

The image of dead trees is in sharp contrast with the rest of the village. One side of the village is densely dotted with umbrella-shaped acacia trees, and the other side is a beautiful coconut tree along the bank of the Juba River that flows into the river. The Indian Ocean a few kilometers away.

Cantar is the father of 10 children. He recently settled in the village in the early 1990s when he cut off the trunk of the tree without realizing the consequences he would face.

The local elders immediately appeared and accused him of “cutting down trees.” They said that this crime is equivalent to killing a person and demanded that he pay about $1,500 in Diya (blood money) as compensation.

They also ordered him to leave the village within a few hours.

“I was shocked, I thought I was targeted for other reasons, but they explained the local regulations to me, so I had to pay a fine and move my family to another village,” Kantar said.

The verdict was made by the village chief, Ali Farah Ismail, a former soldier in his 70s with a beard dyed in henna. He was one of the first people to settle in the area in 1991.

Village Chief Ali said: “We treat our trees like one of us.” [Iidle Aadan/Al Jazeera]

Qaamqaam was formerly a military training camp, located approximately 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Kismayo, under the jurisdiction of the Jubaland State Government.

During the Siad Barre government, Ismail worked as a trainer in the camp.

When the civil war broke out in 1991, Ismail and his colleagues decided not to take sides in the conflict, but to provide protection for people who fled to the area.

“We all agreed to help protect our people and the environment. We don’t have any political or clan affiliation, so people trust us very much, and the ensuing hostile groups have not bothered us,” Ismail said.

Unlike other rural areas in the region, Kamkam is known for its dense, drought-resistant acacia trees, which have long been the backbone of Somalia’s multimillion-dollar illegal charcoal trade. The village currently has a close agricultural community of about 2,000 families.

Decades ago, when Kantar arrived in the village to chop down trees, he had no intention of using it to burn charcoal, so he appealed the elder’s ruling. He said he was forced to cut down the tree trunk because it dripped corrosive sap in his yard. Nine months later, he was accepted back to the village.

“When I tell people that I have paid hard-earned money for cutting down a tree in my home, they think I am crazy, but they don’t value the benefits we get from the trees. We can’t live without them, we should understand them And protect them in any way,” Kantar said.

Somalia is facing the effects of climate change, including drought, Flash floods and extreme weather patterns.So-called large-scale deforestation caused by production black gold It will only exacerbate the situation.

“After the collapse of the central government, the trees used for charcoal production were extensively destroyed, so we must take measures to protect them,” Ali said. “For the past 30 years, we have agreed to implement a strict rule to treat our trees like one of us,” he added.

This unique approach involves combining customary law and environmental protection law to form a mixed legal system that also has aspects of Islamic law.

“Whenever new residents come to the village, we will tell them the rules and everyone is satisfied with it,” Ali said. “For those who destroy it, we not only fined them, but also expelled them from the area to send a clear message to others,” he added.

Kamkam in the Jubaran region of Somalia is famous for its drought-resistant acacia trees [Iidle Aadan/Al Jazeera]

The Horn of Africa countries lack effective environmental regulations, although Banned by the UN Security Council After importing charcoal from Somalia in 2012, this commodity continued to enter the Middle East market.

United Nations estimate Nearly 3 million people across the country have been displaced by conflicts and climate-related disasters. Currently, more than 80% of the country is experiencing moderate to severe drought.

Omar Ahmed Nur, Dean of the Department of Environmental Sciences at the National University of Somalia, said: “Climate change has caused severe damage in Somalia, with frequent droughts, and the number of displaced persons has reached a record high in recent years.”

“Urgent action is needed to implement climate adaptation measures, which will help reduce the vulnerability of poor communities,” he added.

However, grassroots efforts like Kamcam seem to be paying off. The beauty of the village and the unique approach to trees attract the attention of local tourists, who flock to the village on weekends and holidays.

“I regret cutting down this tree in my house because it has dried up,” said Kantar, who is now an elder in the village. “I always ask God for forgiveness, because whenever I see it, it bothers me,” he added.

Iidle Aadan contributed reporting from Kamkam, Somalia.

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