Sun, Jul 08, 2018 - Page 15 News List

Refrigerated ATMs a boon for camel milk business

By Zoe Tabary  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, WAJIR, Kenya

Halima Sheikh Ali is the proud owner of one of the few automated teller machines (ATMs) in the town of Wajir in northeast Kenya. However, rather than doling out banknotes, it dispenses something tastier: a fresh pint of camel milk.

“For 100 Kenyan shillings [US$0.99], you get one liter of the freshest milk in Wajir County,” she said, opening a vending machine advertising “fresh, hygienic and affordable camel milk” in order to check the liquid’s temperature.

One of the world’s biggest camel producers, east Africa also produces much of the world’s camel milk, almost all of it consumed domestically.

In northeast Wajir County, demand is booming among locals, who have said it is healthier and more nutritious than cow’s milk.

“Camel milk is everything,” said Noor Abdullahi, a project officer for US-based aid agency Mercy Corps.

“It is good for diabetes, blood pressure and indigestion,” he added.

However, temperatures averaging 40°C in the dry season, combined with the risk of dirty collection containers, mean the liquid can go sour in a matter of hours, he said, making it much harder to sell.

To remedy this, an initiative is equipping about 50 women in Hadado, a village 80km from Wajir, with refrigerators to cool the milk that remote camel herders send them via auto rickshaw taxi, plus a van to transport it daily to Wajir.

There, a dozen female milk traders, including Sheikh Ali, sell it through four ATM-like vending machines after receiving training on business skills such as accounting.

“The [milk] supply and demand are there. We just have to make it easier for the milk to get from one point to another,” Abdullahi said.

The project, which is part of the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters program, is funded by the British Department for International Development and led by Mercy Corps.

Asha Abdi, a milk trader in Hadado who operates one of the refrigerators with 11 other women, said she used to have to boil camel’s milk — using costly and smoky firewood — to prevent it from turning sour.

“I spent 100 shillings a day on firewood, and the milk would often go bad by the time it got to Wajir, as the [public] transport took over three hours,” she said.

Now Abdi and the other women in her group send about 500 liters of fresh milk to Wajir every day — a trip that takes just more than an hour by van. They then reinvest the profits in other ventures.

“With the milk money I bought 20 goats,” Abdi said, as she rearranged bags of sugar in her crowded kiosk.

“But my dream would be to export the camel milk to the United States,” she said.

“I hear it’s like gold over there,” she added.

Amid hundreds of camels roaming stretches of orange dirt outside of Hadado, Gedi Mohammed sits under the shade of a small acacia tree.

“The [auto rickshaw] drivers should be here soon to buy my camel milk,” he said, sipping the precious liquid from a large wooden bowl.

In Kenya’s largely pastoralist Wajir County, prolonged drought is pushing growing numbers of the region’s nomadic herders to see camels — and their milk — as a drought-safe investment.

Mohammed, who used to own more than 100 cows, said he exchanged them a decade ago for camels, “which drink a lot of water, but can then survive eight days without another drop, when a cow will die after two days.”

However, even camels suffer when the weather is really dry, he added.

This story has been viewed 3026 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top