Kenya: camel's milk set for boom times

For the tattered-clothed young men in this remote community, milking a camel's stubby utters at sunrise is not a novelty, but a daily chore to get milk valued by their tribe for generations.

But camel's milk, long-cherished by the Cushite people of central Kenya, is now enjoying a renaissance in the capital Nairobi and could, some say, become an internationally coveted health food product worth 10 billion dollars a year. "Camels are better than cows because they can survive when there is drought, but the cows cannot, so I can make a profit even during dry season," said Halima Hussein, 45, whose 84-strong flock makes her a local camel-mogul.

"I'm going to sell to sell some of my cows to buy more camels," added Hussein, whose family also owns 120 cows.

This arid region in central Kenya, like much of northeast Africa, has in recent years been hit with less predictable and more intense droughts, hindering cow's milk production and boosting the value of camels.

In Isiolo, some 280 kilometres (175 miles) north of Nairobi, Hussein and the 63 other women in her local cooperative currently send between 3,000 to 5,000 litres (quarts) of camel's milk a day to markets in Nairobi's Eastleigh neighbourhood.

Following this unprecedented demand, the Dutch development organisation SNV, which helps the women sell their milk in Nairobi, has suggested opening a milk bar in Isiolo, perhaps to introduce visitors to the unique flavours of camel-based diary.

The Somali, Oromo and Borana tribes - all part of the Cushite group - provide a reliable base of customers at Nairobi's hectic markets.

But some insist there is a chance to turn this once ignored type of milk into a high-end health food product sought after on every continent.

"There is already a high demand for camel milk in the developed countries," said Holger Marbach, a German national who founded Vital Camel Milk, which makes yoghurt, ice cream and other camel's milk products.

Marbach said Vital Camel Milk currently sells its products to supermarkets in Kenya, Latin America, South Africa and United Arab Emirates, but could sell to more lucrative markets if "administrative and political barriers" were removed.

Leading food experts also agree that camel's milk has potentially valuable properties.

"Camel milk is slightly saltier than cow's milk, three times as rich in Vitamin C and is known to be rich in iron, unsaturated fatty acids and B vitamins," according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's website.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that with savvier packaging and more investment, camel's milk could become a 10 billion dollar annual global industry.

Even though Starbucks has not yet introduced a 'camel chai latte,' the milk remains a hugely important food source for a community regularly hit by devastating drought.

"I feed my 12 children on camel's milk," said Safia Kulow, 40, who is president of the Isiolo women's cooperative.

Daniel Muggi, the official in charge of Isiolo livestock at Kenya's Ministry of Agriculture, argues that the milk's nutritional value, and the ability of camels to produce it regardless of the whether, may enhance its popularity.

"Circumstances force people to change and non Cushite communities are considering camels because of lessons learnt from the drought and famine here," he said.

"I'm not saying people should abandon all the other types of milk, but I am saying camel milk is the saviour of the pastoralists during the dry season."

While they welcome the surge in camel interest within Kenya, locals in Isiolo sound anxious to look beyond the domestic market.

"In the future, we are thinking of getting a camel milk factory," said 56-year-old Adan Ali, the only male member of the Isiolo cooperative.

"We think camel milk will be gold, because we will start exporting to the European Union," he said.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Plumber

    £22000 - £25900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company is expanding and th...

    Recruitment Genius: Corporate Account Manager

    £27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Corporate Account Manager is ...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef de Partie

    £7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This award winning conference venues provider...

    Recruitment Genius: Admin Assistant

    £12000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding Insurance Brokerag...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders