Camel Ice Cream Delivering Desert Dessert

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The global food crisis is forcing people around the world to think differently about how food is produced and what new products can boost the incomes of farmers. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for food production to increase 50 percent by 2030 just to meet rising demand – and right now there are 862 million people worldwide who are undernourished (FAO).

The world’s over 19.4 million camels (FAO, 2003) are now being tapped for their highly nutritious, healing and tasty milk. Camel milk is three times as rich in Vitamin C as cow’s milk. And it has several unique properties that differ from other milks, like cow and buffalo. It contains enzymes with anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties to fight diseases. The milk also contains insulin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulin), a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, something that is critical to the survival of diabetics.

With more and more areas of the world suffering from severe drought or desertification, camels’ renowned ability to go without a drink of water for up to three weeks makes them ideal animals. Camels continue to lactate milk even in a dehydrated state.

The current 5.4 million tonnes of camel milk produced every year isn’t enough to meet demand. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is confident, that with the right investment and innovation, camel milk has a potential market of a minimum 200 million people in the Arab world, and many millions more in Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Fresh camel milk fetches roughly US $1 dollar a litre on African markets. A world market worth US $10 billion is entirely within the realm of possibility, the FAO says.

“The potential is massive,” said FAO dairy and meat expert Anthony Bennett. “Milk is money.”

“No one is suggesting intensive camel dairy farming,” said Bennett. “But just with improved feed, husbandry and veterinary care, daily yields could rise to 20 litres (per camel).”

An Indian NGO – the Lokhit Pashu-Pala Sansthan (LPPS), which supports landless livestock owners and means “welfare organization for livestock keepers” in Hindi – is re-inventing the business model for camel herding in India (http://www.lpps.org/). The LPPS is a canny user of publicity and has created products that are eye-catching and instant conversation starters: camel ice cream and camel-dung paper.

Produced in the Indian state of Rajasthan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajasthan), the camel milk ice cream is being sold in shops and hotels. It comes in two flavours: kesar (saffron) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saffron) and strawberry vanilla.

The camel is integral to the traditional way of life in Rajasthan and is the state’s signature animal. India once boasted the third-largest population of camels in the world: over 1 million.

But that number has fallen to just 400,000. Grazing areas once just for camels are now being used by agriculture and wildlife sanctuaries. The camel breeders, the Raika people, have experienced a serious decline in income from camel herding, and many have sold their camels for slaughter.

If there was to be a future for camel herding in Rajasthan, new products had to be developed and the whole business of camel herding re-branded.

The ice cream is part of a two-year project to help camel breeders develop new products using camel milk. Camels are seen as ideal animals to raise in the drought-afflicted climate of Rajasthan, and can produce four to six litres of milk a day.

‘With groundwater levels dropping rapidly, it spells the end of water-intensive agriculture. In this scenario, camel husbandry represents a perfect solution to the chronic water woes of the state,’ said Bagdi Ram Raika, president of the Rajasthan Pastoralist Development Association.

‘We would like to see the camel breeders of Rajasthan make use of their traditional assets and avail themselves of the new marketing opportunities. Our role is to support them in this,’ said Hanwant Singh, director of LPPS.

The highly inventive people at LPPS have also come up with paper made from camel dung. Handmade, the notebooks, diaries and greeting cards are all made from the dung paper. The camel’s dung contains undigested fibre, which makes an excellent material for making paper.

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