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Last Updated: Friday, 21 April 2006, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
Milking the benefit from camels
Camel milking in Mauritania
Camel milk is already widely drunk in many countries

Camels' milk and other products like camels' cheese, ice cream and camel chocolate could soon be hitting the shelves of Western retailers if a United Nations bid to stimulate the rudimentary industry is successful.

It is already widely drunk across the Arab world, but the United Nations says camel's milk has untapped potential to hit the global markets.

Tasting slightly more salty than cows' milk, but with three times the vitamin C and up to 10 times the iron content, camel's milk is touted as a powerful tonic against many diseases and as an aphrodisiac.

Potentially it could provide more food to people in dry areas, and also give nomadic herders from Mauritania to Mongolia a rich source of income.

Many people believe the camel is a dirty animal, but that is not true. If you think there is not a high quality product coming from these animals, that is not true either.
Holger Marbach
Camel Dairy Milk Ltd

To do that, the fledgling industry needs to overcome numerous humps in production.

A camel typically produces about five litres of milk per day, but that could be easily improved with changes to the low-tech business, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

"The potential is massive. Milk is money," says FAO dairy and meat expert Anthony Bennett.

"No-one's suggesting intensive camel dairy farming, but just with improved feed, husbandry and veterinary care daily yields could rise to 20 litres."

Fresh camel milk fetches about a dollar a litre on African markets.

Mr Bennett says that with the right investment, a global market worth $10bn (5.6bn) is entirely possible.

'Camel-bert cheese'

British-born Nancy Abeiderahmanne has run a camel dairy in Mauritania for about 15 years.

World population of camels is about 20 million
Somalia is home to largest herd
About 5.4 million tonnes of camel milk produced annually
But just 25% is consumed by humans
It tastes slightly saltier than cows' milk
And it is three times as rich in vitamin C
Source: UN FAO

Back in 1992 the FAO helped her develop a camel cheese-making process, sending a scientist to show her how to use a special enzyme to give her products the right consistency.

The result was a soft cheese with a white crust, "Caravane", and nicknamed Camelbert.

Ms Abeiderahmanne says she has had interest from upmarket stores like Harrod's and Fortnum and Mason, in London, and is trying to find an acceptable certification system in a bid to get an export licence.

Other ventures from the Western Sahara to Mongolia hint at the industry's potential.

Nomads in Kazakhstan exploit a centuries-old method of storing camel milk in places lacking electricity, processing fresh milk into fermented milk, Shubat, a local delicacy.

In Kazakhstan's old capital of Almaty, a modern factory produces Kourt, a hard cheese, and a range of camel milk sweets.

Meanwhile a Vienna-based chocolatier, Johann Georg Hochleitner, is preparing to launch a low-fat, camel milk's chocolate - prepared in Austria with powdered camel milk.

Mr Hochleitner wants to tap into what he says is a potential market of 200 million in the Arab world.

Taste test

The BBC's Wanyama wa Chebusiri visited the Camel Dairy Milk factory in Nanyuki, Kenya - a country where many see the camel herd as a traditional symbol of wealth.

"Caravane" cheese
Some upmarket Western stores are said to be interested in "Caravane" cheese

Owner Holger Marbach is hoping to tap the commercial potential of milk and related products like ice cream and yoghurt.

"Many people believe the camel is a dirty animal, but that is not true," he said.

"Many think there is not a high quality product coming from these animals, that is not true either."

The company talks up the health benefits of its products, coming as they do from an animal which eats a diverse range of vegetation.

Yet a taste test hinted what may be a battle to convince consumers.

"Camels' milk compared to cows' milk... I like camels' milk very much," one man told the BBC.

But a young woman added: "Camels' yoghurt is not so sweet. I compare it with cows' milk and with goats' - not only is it too heavy, the taste is not so good."

Camels could help cure humans
10 Dec 01 |  Middle East

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