Kenya: When it’s too dry for dairy cows, switch to camel milk (Trust)

| May 23, 2016

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Fatuma Yousef waits outside the Vital Camel Milk factory in the town of Isiolo, Kenya, 275 kilometres north of Nairobi. She is surrounded by heavy yellow jerry cans filled with milk—camel milk.

After 70 of her dairy cows died from the drought, Mrs. Yousef decided to take a risk and try a new business: raising camels.

The increasingly long and frequent dry spells have made raising dairy cattle difficult for Kenyan farmers. But when Mrs. Yousef saw that her first five camels thrived on just tree branches and leaves, she decided to invest in the long-legged animals. She sold 100 cows to buy camels, an animal whose milk never dries up.

Mrs. Yousef now owns 60 camels. With climate change bringing more extreme weather and more frequent droughts, she considers them a good investment.

The 60 animals produce 180 litres of milk a day. Demand for camel milk is high, particularly in Nairobi, where cafés in the bustling business district serve “camelcinos” alongside the typical cappuccinos.

Mrs. Yousef says, “Camels are the number one thing round here right now.”

With increased demand in cities and more extreme weather in the dry northern rangelands, an increasing number of Kenya’s nomadic herders are turning to camels as a drought-safe business investment.

Demand is outstripping supply, a situation people in Isiolo are calling a “camel rush.” Mrs. Yousef says, “I get more for my camel milk…. I used to get 60 shillings ($0.60 US) per litre (for cows’ milk). Now I get 110 shillings ($1.10 US for camels’ milk).”

Prices for both camel milk and camels are rising in the region, with good milk camels selling for between $400 and $1,000 US.

Piers Simpkin has studied camels for more than 30 years, and runs his own milking business in Elmenteita, about 130 kilometres from Nairobi. He says he has seen a huge change in the popularity of camel keeping in recent years.

Mr. Simpkin says herds are growing fastest among the Maasai people of southern Kenya, who traditionally only kept cows. But the popularity of camels is growing in other places too because of their ability to survive in dry conditions.

He explains, “Drought can kill between 50 and 80 per cent of cattle herds…. At the same time, you’ll probably only get a 10 to 16 per cent mortality in camel herds.”

He adds, “I think we’ll be seeing an increase in camel milk consumption with climate change…. Drier conditions and global warming are better suited to camel production.”

Camels produce a lot of milk. Mr. Simpkin has been training herders in Samburu and Turkana Counties for years. He says a camel there can produce four to five times as much milk as a local cow.

Back in Isiolo, Vital Camel Milk factory collects about 10,000 litres of milk a camel month from herders. Holger Marbach runs the milk factory. He says that Kenya has triple the number of camels it did in 2005, when he started his business. The increase is largely a response to unpredictable weather patterns. He adds that, though supply is surging, demand is probably double what his factory is processing.

To read the full story on which this article is based, Kenya in a froth as drought spurs switch to ‘camelcinos,’ go to:

Photo credit: REUTERS/Antony Njuguna