Camel milk, goat breeding lift Borana’s fortunes

When 24-year old Ralia’s husband left her and their four children, it was like staring into an abyss. That happened five years ago when Ralia was living in Isiolo.

At the time, Ralia’s husband was working in Mombasa and they rarely saw one another. When the money dried up and she did not even know if he was still alive, she realised that he had abandoned her and her four children.

Ralia, now 29 years of age, has returned to her native village of Bulesa located in a vast area known as the Borana. Although the region is increasingly threatened with disasters, Ralia and her family now have hope.

With support, she has improved the family’s food security and is earning an income. Five goats and a camel In 2010, Ralia Kura Abdi was one of 105 particularly disadvantaged people selected by the village council to take part in a camel project. The project run by SDC, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and VSF, Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Suisse provided Ralia and the others with five breeding goats and a camel in calf. The cost was a nominal but affordable amount. Selling the goats’ milk provided Ralia with help in the short term: she was able to make ends meet and pay for a camel herder. Camels are sometimes grazed at a considerable distance from the village and so herdsmen are required to look after the animals.

The Borana nomads abandoned camel husbandry some 100 years ago because they found cattle more profitable. As a result, the associated skills were largely lost. To remedy this loss, Biovision joined the camel project in 2010 and now funds courses in animal husbandry and provides training for vets in the care and treatment of camels.

Camels are regaining their importance because they are more adaptable than cattle to the extreme conditions that are prevalent in the semi-arid Borana region. Camels can be likened to endurance runners: they can survive for 14 days without water, living primarily on the leaves of thorn and acacia bushes and yet they still continue to produce milk every day. Camels are being reintroduced in the Borana in order to reduce the risk during periods of drought and the reliance of local populations on food aid.

Ralia’s camel has now calved and so is providing milk. This milk, together with the income from the breeding goats – the number has now doubled to ten – provides the family with about five litres of milk per day. The family drinks half and the rest is sold giving Ralia earns a daily income of about Sh150. This income is extremely important, not least because the unpredictable weather means that the supply of maize and vegetables from her garden on the banks of the river cannot be guaranteed.

The life of Ralia Kura Abdi and her children remains difficult but the camel project has opened up new prospects.