What you need to know:
- Recognised as a super food, camel milk is low in lactose, allowing it to be digested by people with dairy intolerance.
- The cooperative is focused on value addition, and plans to start producing camel milk ice-cream, yoghurt and cheese.
Camels are a prized possession for pastoralist communities. Their ability to resist harsh and prolonged drought makes them one of the biggest assets among these communities.
Although mostly common in Mandera, Garissa, Wajir and parts of upper Eastern in Marsabit and Turkana, camel farming has been spreading to other parts such as Samburu, Meru, Laikipia, Kajiado and Narok.
That intimate bond owners have with these animals comes with certain rules, for instance, some communities consider selling them to outsiders a taboo, however, focus has slowly been shifting to camels as the next cashcow, seeing the formation of the Moyale Camel Milk Dairy Cooperative Society in 2018 by a group of 20 farmers keeping camels.
The cooperative currently processes pasteurised camel milk, which is sold for Sh100 per litre in Marsabit and other parts of the country. Herders supply the cooperative with 2,000 to 3,000 litres of camel milk per day.
The cooperative's secretary, Ishmael Ibrahim, observes that the camel milk contributes to food security and is a source of income to many in the area.
More people across Kenya, and even in countries outside Africa are gradually coming around to camel milk due to its richness in iron, vitamin B and C, not to mention that it is low in fat, as well as for its medicinal value, particularly against diabetes.
Recognised as a super food, the milk is low in lactose, allowing it to be digested by people with dairy intolerance.
Ibrahim explains that camels feed on at least 36 different types of plants. Most of these trees and plants are used in medicine and, therefore, the milk is highly nutritious.
Considering the evolution from simple urban hawking, mostly by female vendors, to commercial retail sales and international exports spells a brighter future for the pastoralists.
Moyale Camel Milk Dairy Cooperative Society Treasurer, Khalima Mohammed, says that gender labour dynamics, and capital investment, emerge as critical themes in the milk's monetisation.
Women have for a long time been generally responsible for selling camel milk, this has also provided them with a valuable source of income that goes towards household needs.
Ms Mohammed pointed out that as demand for camel milk grows, driven by a demand from health-conscious consumers across the globe as well as a local booming middle-class that is warming up to the milk, it is creating local entrepreneurs in Marsabit and boosting investment.
The cooperative has refrigerated plants fitted with a coolant to increase the milk's shelf line though they lack vans to pick and deliver the milk to designated towns and collection points.
In an effort to satisfy their consumers, they saw the need to expand the market, create consumer value and sustain the livelihood of the producers, vendors and other intermediaries. This intervention has been instrumental in delivering value to consumers.
"Before we joined this cooperative, most of us were making a loss of Sh500 daily due to milk contamination, but today, we have a real opportunity to develop this industry and be able to supply milk around the world if we all work together,” she says.
The milk would become sour, forcing sellers to ferment it, however, the price of fermented camel milk is lower than that of fresh milk.
Many times, farmers would be force to dispose of their milk when they failed to get buyers. There is also the fact that some buyers lacked trust in the vendors, who they would suspect of adulterating it with goat or cow milk.
The lack of business skills, financial literacy and proper milk handling hygiene was also an impediment to most of the camel milk vendors.
With these challenges controlled, the cooperative is focused on value addition, and plans to start producing camel milk ice-cream, yoghurt and cheese.
The Camel milk Value Chain Products started with a total of 20 groups of 369 members comprising 223 female, 37 male and 109 youth.
The groups have since formed five cooperatives. There has been increased adoption of new technologies and innovations, thereby reducing postharvest losses from 45 to 10 percent.
Through partnership with a local NGO, the society has established a camel milk processing plant in Moyale town, and the number of dairies has since risen to 10, with a variety of more products made from the milk on sale. Camel dairy products range from baby milk to chocolate bars, pizza, white cheese, kefir, and yoghurt.
According to the Camel Dairy Market: Global Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity, and Forecast 2019-2024 report, the global camel dairy market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 8 per cent during 2019-2024.