Mon, Nov 18, 2013 - Page 12 News List

The last straw

India’s camel breeders count losses at one of world’s largest livestock fairs

By Charlotte Turner  /  AFP, PUSHKAR, India

Most complain about the reduction in grazing areas for feeding their stock as development encroaches on common land and national parks and forests become out of bounds.

Breeding becomes riskier as a poorer diet makes camels more susceptible to illness and miscarriages are more likely, says Koehler-Rollefson.

A government-backed program in the city of Bikaner in northern Rajasthan is trying to create more resilient animals through enhanced nutrition and cross-breeding.

But herdsmen like Nimaram say that program is only benefiting herders in the large, arid region of the Thar desert, and has had no impact on his community further south.

“Our children want to continue rearing camels, but only if it is profitable,” says Nimaram, who also only uses one name.

He wants the government to offer loans to help them invest in camel milk dairies, an industry that has already taken off in the Middle East.

The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the global market for camel milk is worth US$10 billion, but India’s share is currently just 0.1 percent.

Camel milk is a rich source of insulin and is touted as a dietary treatment for diabetes, a potentially huge market in India which has the highest number of diabetics in the world. But the country’s small-scale camel milk producers lack the infrastructure to transport refrigerated milk and make it a viable business.

Nimaram spends 10 months of the year out grazing with his animals and he hopes that in the future his children can work alongside camels too.

But he knows the prospects for that aren’t very promising. When he was a child his family owned 500 camels, now they are down to just 50.

His biggest fear is that one day there will be so few camels left in Rajasthan that his grandchildren “will only get to see them in pictures or in books.”

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