Where camels are part of the answer

Muna Ismail meets a trendsetting dairy farmer in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

Mustafa Duale and I meet in a café in Hargeisa. He wants to know whether his dairy camel farm can be used for trial planting of Yeheb, a valuable food and fodder plant which I am trying to reintroduce to Somaliland. I am intrigued, and a bit skeptical, as overgrazing is a huge problem in Somaliland and camels are part of this. But when I listen to him, I discover that our views on sustainability are not as far apart as I feared.

What took you into camel milk production?

Somaliland has the largest domesticated camel population in the world. I keep 250 camels on protected rangeland about 120 km south of Hargeisa. I hope that my farm will change the way Somalis rear livestock and produce milk. The variability of our climate, and our rising population, mean that we must promote sustainable use of the land.

Somalis have been rearing camels for centuries, but traditional methods rarely produce more milk than one family needs. Camel milk has always been prized in Somali culture. We have a lot to learn about how to benefit from this resource without destroying plant biodiversity.

We are looking at ways of developing environmentally friendly silage, to use in dry seasons. We might also consider planting Yeheb on the rangeland where the camels graze.

How does your dairy business help the community?

When central government collapsed in Somalia, it was replaced by autonomous regional administrations which failed to regulate food standards. Poor food quality affects public health: people of all ages suffer from malnutrition. One remedy for bone diseases is to drink more milk. More good quality milk would improve health.

Our customers back this up. A single mother told us, ‘Before I started buying camel milk from your company, my children used to be on all sorts of medications for all sorts of ailments.’ And an elderly man said that drinking two glasses of our milk every day has kept him from having to go back to his doctors in Europe.

How are your methods making a difference?

We see our company as a trendsetter. We are one of the very few companies to bring high quality fresh camel milk to the market in Hargeisa. We take a holistic, environmentally conscientious approach to rearing camels in open rangeland. We apply strict standards of hygiene to milk production and handling.

Our prices are affordable and our customer service ethos is honest. I believe we are already triggering a change. More people want to set up dairy farms which combine traditional methods with modern knowledge and technology. I hope that one day we will export our organically produced camel milk throughout the Horn of Africa and beyond.