At CJ Restaurant, a popular cafe in downtown Nairobi, manager Omar Shariff noticed a change. In the past, the demand for camel milk was mainly driven by the local Somali community that grew up with it, and now more and more customers demand it.
Now, his menu includes drinks such as “camel-ccinos” and “camelattes”, and plans to launch camel products other than drinks, such as camel burgers.
Although camel milk is consumed in other parts of the world (including most of the Middle East, parts of Asia and Australia), its popularity in East Africa mainly remains in rural groups. But broader interest regionally and globally has begun to grow, and prices have led some to refer to milk as “white gold.”
Exploit rich resources
Although some people in the region have long been a daily staple food, this beverage lacks an organized and broad market approach. In contrast, milk is most commonly found in informal markets across the country.
From yogurt to “camel-ccinos”, Kenyan farmers are seeking to formalize the industry and bring this superfood to the general public.
According to Khalif Abey of the Kenya Camel Association, even without a formal supply chain, the industry will contribute 1-12 billion Kenyan shillings ($9.0-108 million) to the country’s economy every year.
For Platinum Camel Milk, one of the largest camel milk producers in East Africa, growth opportunities are obvious. The company produces 500 liters of milk a day, and the company’s CEO Jama Warsame pointed out that local demand has prompted the company to diversify the production of other value-added products, such as flavored camel milk and yogurt.
The attractiveness of adaptation
As most parts of East Africa continue to experience longer and more severe droughts, camels have also become a climate-friendly alternative food source.
Camels can continue to produce milk even when precious resources such as rain are difficult to obtain.
In addition to climate considerations, Shariff said that more and more health-conscious consumers have pushed institutions such as CJ’s Restaurant to provide milk.
“From fitness coaches to health nutritionists, several of us said they found a lot of interesting facts about camel milk and its benefits,” he said.
Despite the existence of potential growth markets, some challenges continue to hinder the expansion of camel milk in Kenya. Limited roads and lack of infrastructure and cold storage have hindered the mass production and delivery of dairy products.
To expand the industry, Kenya’s camel milk industry is promoting the establishment of a more formal value chain.
“Most ranchers live in terrible environments. We must invest in refrigerated trucks. We must invest in a collection center,” Warsame said.
For an industry built on a network of small family farms, there are other obstacles to developing the industry to export to profitable markets abroad.
“In the milk market produced by many small farmers, it is difficult to comply with international standards for disease management and control,” Hewitt pointed out.
Despite the challenges, industry leaders are still pushing for the establishment of a formal value chain. The Kenya Camel Association stated that with proper infrastructure, the industry is estimated to be worth US$200 million per year and affect between 10 and 12 million households in northern Kenya that rely on these animals for their livelihoods.
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