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The Commercial Sale of Camel Milk From Pastoral Herds in the Mogadishu Hinterland, Somalia

Research reports

Traditional subsistence pastoral systems in East Africa are typically geared towards the output of calves and milk for human consumption. The production of meat - though not unimportant - is subsidiary to the calf-milk operation. Development efforts directed at African pastoral systems have however generally (and unsuccessfully) been oriented towards the commercialization of livestock as meat or even towards the creation of commercial meat production enterprises - ranches. Although most such systems and societies have been thoroughly integrated into the national markets via the commodization of livestock-as-meat, and cannot now reproduce themselves outside this link, there have been few projects or efforts aiming at the sustained commercialization of the staple commodity of such systems - milk.

It is clear that from the viewpoint of the pastoral commodity producer, the sale of milk would have its advantages, as it would allow the potentially fine tuned sale of a replenishable commodity in a way that does not eat into the herd `capital'. Moreover, dairy products tend to be in highest demand and to fetch the highest price in the dry season(s), when prices for livestock are low (Kerven 1987a). Conversely, the commercialization of milk has been detrimental to household subsistence and nutrition in a number of instances (eg Salzman 1988). Moreover, a squeeze on domestic milk consumption (by exchange into non-protein grain food) potentially endangers the weakest sections in pastoral societies - children and mothers.

From the viewpoint of planners, however, it was the marketing chain, based on pastoral, and thus often nomadic or semi-nomadic households, that posed the main constraint. Recently there has nevertheless been an increasing interest in examples of pastoral dairy production and sale (e.g. White and Meadows 1981, Waters-Bayer 1985, Kerven 1987b).

The following example, drawn from Somalia, outlines a commercial `milk-chain' collecting camel milk for consumption in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. This chain is entirely local and in the hands of women milktraders, called abakaar. It manages to handle between 1.5 and 5 tons of camel milk, daily, reliably, and at an affordable price, from highly mobile nomadic camel herds 100-150 km from Mogadishu. It does so without any external input (expatriate or other), whether technical know-how or capital. The pastoral producers have geared their production and movements to the milk chain, so that in most camel-owning households, milk sales dominate in their total cash income. This is however not to say that pastoralists in the study area are `commercial dairy producers'. Their basic outlook has remained subsistence oriented, so that they could be called - if a term is called for at all - `market-integrated subsistence dairy pastoralists'.

Following a brief note on the background of the study and the setting, the paper first considers camel milk sales from pastoral households, then the organization of the abakaar milk trade to Mogadishu.

Urs J Herren