What you need to know:
- A camel bull is sold to slaughterhouses for not less than Sh80, 000 depending on its size and age, which is much higher than a mature cattle bull that ordinarily goes for Sh30, 000 in the region.
- The group rears both Somali and Turkana breeds, which adapt well with the region and they occasionally slaughter the animals for their own consumption.
About 10 years ago, a group of malnourished residents came together to diversify their agricultural assets, but camel farming was not one of their new alternatives.
After much thought, the residents of Rimoi sub-location in Elgeyo Marakwet County, who are members of the Lapkeiyet (light) self-help group, decided to try camel rearing, which was unheard of in the area.
This suggestion, however, came with a prize. When other residents heard of the upcoming project, they discouraged them, saying it would encourage cattle rustling and also introduce a curse since that was not part of their culture.
“Coming from a Keiyo community, camel rearing was unheard of and they discouraged us because they questioned who would consume the meat and milk. They asked us to rear cows and goats instead as is the norm among community members. But we had researched and discovered camels were the best animal for our semi-arid region,” Joseph Cheboi, the group patron, said.
“We were not budging from our resolve to rear camels because cattle and goats were being affected by vagaries of weather. Many had died during drought and the remaining ones were moved to far away areas in search of water and pasture, making families susceptible to malnutrition since milk and meat was supplementing our diets,” he added.
Unlike cattle, camels are browsers; making them best suited for the shrubby and rocky Kerio valley unlike cattle and goats that graze; relying on grass and other low lying vegetation.
With their determination, the group came up with a proposal to the Iten-based Community Agricultural Development in Semi-Arid Lands, which was running a campaign on socioeconomic empowerment in the region.
Their proposal was accepted and they were given five camels — a bull and four females. The Kenya Camel Association (KCA) also added one more camel. In 2010, KCA officials visited them and were impressed with their husbandry skills, which paid off after they were given additional five more camels. The group is now a proud owner of 120 camels with over 20 that are lactating; producing at least 40 litres of milk on daily basis. A litre of milk goes for Sh200 in Eldoret town when compared to Sh60 for cattle.
A camel bull is sold to slaughterhouses for not less than Sh80, 000 depending on its size and age, which is much higher than a mature cattle bull that ordinarily goes for Sh30, 000 in the region.
The group rears both Somali and Turkana breeds, which adapt well with the region and they occasionally slaughter the animals for their own consumption.
“The real test came when we attempted to consume the milk. Unlike the cattle or goats’ milk, the camel milk has a flavoured taste and many locals threw up when they attempted to sip. But after a few trials, people become receptive to consuming it with ease. The region began shunning the cow and goat milk and preferred the camel one,” he recounted.
Mr Cheboi noted that during drought, locals line up early in the morning and in evening to buy camel milk.
“The camels are consistent in their production unlike cattle whose milk yield is largely dependent on the feed. Thus we come in handy during the lean times. Now that there is climate change, food and water for cattle is dwindling, but there is hope. Camels are resilient to the harsh climatic conditions of Kerio valley,” he said.
Another group member, Monica Kemboi, hailed camel rearing as a game changer in supplementing the nutritional value of their food.
“The entire region relied on packaged packet milk to feed families, which was expensive, especially poor families, and they could not afford it. Malnutrition was rampant and because of the camel milk, the scenario is now different. Pregnant mothers and children are assured of constant milk because of camels,” she said.
“We have orders from as far as customers in Eldoret town but we supply only 10 litres to them because locals consume the largest share,” she said.
Compared to whole cow’s milk, camel milk offers more vitamin B and C, calcium, iron, and potassium and is also a good source of healthy fats. It also contains less lactose than cow’s milk, making it more tolerable for many people with lactose intolerance.
Camel milk contains compounds that appear to fight various disease-causing organisms. The two main active components in camel milk are lactoferrin and immunoglobulins, proteins that may give camel milk its immune-boosting properties.
According to the group’s treasurer Benjamin Cheptim, the farm is now a resource and learning centre, where learners from educational institutions including universities visit for field studies.
“Being the pioneer camel farmers in the region, we are happy to note that already five more groups have come up and started the same practice. There are improved earnings from camels when compared to other animals, thus the rush to venture into the new practice,” he said.
Berese, Biretwo, Songeto and Chegilet groups are the other groups that have embraced camel rearing for food and economic security.
Elgeyo Marakwet Agriculture Executive Edwin Seronei said the region’s fortunes have since improved because of camel rearing.
“Camels are actually helping us combat food insecurity especially in reducing malnutrition and the farmers are financially empowered because of sale of surplus camel milk. The milk is highly priced compared to cow milk and we are now promoting it as an alternative for Kerio valley region,” he said.
Mr Seronei said the animals are also important for conserving the environment because they are browsers and they do not exacerbate soil erosion. “Not like other livestock, camels have flat soles that do not loosen the top soil and make it vulnerable to erosion. They have greatly improved soil conservation in the region.”