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Camel milk: source of wealth in Isiolo County

E4Impact Foundation, together with Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Suisse, SomirenecWeWorld Onlus – GVC and Comitato Collaborazione Medica – CCM, is currently participating in the project “Building Drought Resilience in Isiolo County through Sustainable Livelihoods,” funded by the European Union in Kenya.

This project addresses the vulnerability of pastoralists and agro-pastoralists from the majority of Isiolo County (Kenya) impacted by drought and unpredictable rainfall, which lead to reduced crop yields, low livestock productivity, high livestock mortality, low income, and food and nutrition insecurity.

Speaking about livestock, there is an animal that is extremely important to protect. With its unique adaptability, which allows it to thrive in the desert, the Camel symbolizes resilience and essential to this territory. Isiolo County’s arrival is traced back to 1700 when the Cushites brought it from North Eastern Kenya.

Mr. Mohamed Ali, Isiolo resident and camel breeder told us how important these animals are to them:

In this region, livestock is the main source of income and wealth and therefore is protected at all cost. That is why you hear cases of pastoralists being in possession of firearms. They are meant to protect the livestock against enemies”.

For these people, livestock has not only an economic relevance but also a religious and cultural one.

As pastoralists, we view animals as indicators of wealth. Therefore, an individual with a large flock of animals is accorded high respect within the community and, during the meetings, he is given a chance to speak before others. In our Somalis culture, everyone is supposed to give back to society by donating to the poor after reaching a certain number for every animal. For example, every 6th camel produced within the flock is donated to the poor, every 11th for cattle, and 12th in goat and sheep. According to our religion, we believe that, by doing so, we receive blessings from Allah, and the poor also get a chance to create their own wealth. Those who get donations start to donate as well once the number required to donate is reached.”

Globally, the camel population is spread across 47 countries, estimated to be around 26.99 million. About 83 percent of the camel population is found mainly in Eastern and Northern Africa, and the rest in India and the Middle East. Somalia has the highest population of about 7.10 million. Kenya has the 3rd largest camel population of 2.93 M after Sudan.

Pastoralists use camels for many purposes; they are a source of meat and milk, and they are also used as a means of transport. In Kenya, for instance, camel milk has been produced and consumed, amongst ASAL (arid and semi-arid lands) communities such as the Somali, for a very long period, and it continues to be.

At first, camel milk consumption was not very common in Kenya. Therefore, there was no wide market for it; until in the late 90s, many Somali communities started migrating to Kenya because of their country’s insecurity. Being used to camel milk consumption, they started asking some of their relatives in Isiolo to supply them with it, and 5 women saw in this situation an economic opportunity. They started collecting 5 to 10 liters a day to send to Nairobi; the demand started growing more and more. As a result, they could not meet it anymore, so they mobilized other women and formed a group in 1999 intending to increase the capacity to satisfy the requests. The demand continued to grow. In 2010 the group registered as a cooperative with the name of Anolei Women Camel Milk Cooperative, with fundings from various organizations, which also helped them acquire some equipment. Today, the cooperative sells 6000-8000 liters a day during peak seasons and 3000-4000 liters during a dry period in Nairobi alone.

The reason behind such a fast growth of demand for camel milk is probably reconnectable to the results of many research studies that have linked camel milk to many health benefits. Compared to other milk types, it has low fat with high content of unsaturated and long-chain fatty acid. The proteins are rich in lactoferrin and lysozymes but deficient in b-lactoglobulin. The milk has a higher percentage of total salts, free calcium, protective proteins, vitamin C, and some microminerals, viz iron, copper, and zinc. The nutrients are crucial in strengthening body immunity against various diseases such as diabetes.

However, despite the ever-increasing demand for camel milk, the sector still faces a myriad of challenges. When addressed, it can strengthen the value chain and make it profitable and sustainable. This is where the “Building Drought Resilience in Isiolo County through Sustainable Livelihoods” project plays an important role. Within the project, partners give social and technical support to the local communities, covering a wide range of activities. In particular, E4Impact is working together with value chain actors in developing sustainable business models and promoting entrepreneurship and the creation of market linkages.

Leonard Ekea



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