Elixir of the Desert - Meeting demand for camel milk in Garissa County

Published July 20, 2015 by Dorothy Mwangi

Members of Towfiq Self Help Group pouring camel milk into a container after boiling to preserve it.Members of Towfiq Self Help Group pouring camel milk into a container after boiling to preserve it.

For centuries, raw camel milk has served as a traditional curative among pastoralist communities. Its exceptional nutritional value is said to be similar in composition to human breast milk.

50 year old Farahia Bare Ali, a member of Towfiq Self Help Group, welcomes us to Towfiq Milk Bar, located in the hub of Garissa County, Kenya. Through discussions with local champions like Farahia, it has become clear that the potential of the camel and its products has been immensely underutilized in Kenya.  This community recognizes the importance of the camel to safeguard livelihoods due to its ability to survive, and to remain productive even under drought conditions in most of the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands in Northern Kenya.

Having recognized the marketing potential and growing demand for camel milk, the members of Towfiq SHG, a group of 20 Women and 10 Men, got organized and registered with the Ministry of Social services in 2014 as a Self Help Group. They managed to set-up a new business purchasing camel milk from local producers and marketing it in Garissa town.  With some support from the USAID funded Resilience and Economic Growth in Arid Lands (REGAL-IR) program, Towfiq Self Help Group upgraded their business processes, improved hygiene standards and even opened a retail store, selling between 60Liters to 100Liters of camel milk per day to local businesses and homes within a 40km radius of Garissa Town.

The group have faced many constraints, particularly related to hygiene and transportation. In response, with the support of REGAL-IR, they have introduced aluminum cans and cooling fridges and established pooled transport arrangements. Demand for camel milk is gradually increasing, beyond the Somali communities in Kenya, but there is a need for further improvement to business processes. The group has opened up a bank account and is planning to expand their business by marketing their camel milk in supermarkets in Nairobi.

“The future for our business looks good and we want to be a well-known brand,” Farahia informs us.  The business has enabled the Towfiq SHG members to significantly increase their incomes and their decision-making power in their households and communities. With their commitment and business skills, camel milk production and marketing has become the backbone of the livelihoods enhancing resilience for this community.