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«FAO ANIMAL PRODUCTION AND HEALTH paper ADDING VALUE TO LIVESTOCK DIVERSITY Marketing to promote local breeds and improve livelihoods Cover ...»

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At birthing, a female gives an average of 3.5–4 litres per day, falling to about a litre during the long dry season. The calf needs about one-third of the milk, leaving the remainder for human consumption or sale. The number of milkings depends on the stage of lactation and the season: the animals may be milked twice or even three times a day during the wet season, or just once during the morning at the peak of the dry season. A lactating camel gives milk only in presence of her calf. If this has died or been culled, the herders keep its skin to show to the mother to stimulate milk letdown.

There are three main breeds of camel: the Coastal or Bari, the Guban from the mountain plateau, and the Hawd from the Nugal and Mudug regions and nearby parts of Ethiopia (Figure 30).

PART 3: Milk 101 MEN’S CAMELS, WOMEN’S MILK Patchy, unpredictable rain makes pastoralist life a risky business. If rain falls on the other side of the valley, a herder family needs to be able to bring its animals there so they can graze, even if that area is controlled by another family or group. A complex set of social mechanisms, managed by the elders, governs who can use what resources at which time.

The Somali clan system is a traditional organizational structure that binds together people who are related. It runs through the male line: people are members of their father’s and grandfather’s clan. But men normally marry women from outside their clan, creating ties and alliances that cut across clans. Such cross-ties are important to allow people from one clan to use resources controlled by another.

In such a system, men are strongly attached to their clan, while women have a more ambiguous status: they are the natural interface between two groups, as a woman’s father and brothers will belong to one clan, while her husband and sons to another. This dual status lets them move freely and means they are often involved in negotiations and managing conflicts between groups.

It is the men who are responsible for managing and milking the camels, which represent the family’s wealth and prestige, and are its most reliable insurance against drought. But the ownership of camels is attached to the clan structure: they are considered a corporate asset of the clan. So if a man wants to sell a camel, he has to consult other men in the clan.

Women look after the house, care for children, and manage and milk the family’s herd of sheep and goats. These small livestock are secondary assets: they can be sold if the family needs cash quickly. They are not seen as clan assets: a family can decide to sell a sheep or goat without consulting the clan.

Marketing tasks are divided among men and women: the men sell livestock, while women are mainly responsible for selling milk. Men milk the camels, so decide how much milk goes for the calf and how much is left for family use. This is an important role, as it decides how much milk is used to reproduce the herd, and how much to maintain the household. But once the milk is extracted from the animal, the women take charge of it.

They decide how much to give to children, how much to use for other needs, and recently, how much to sell.


The civil strife that began in 1991 in Somalia has had little direct impact in the northeastern region, but has led to a massive increase in urban populations there as people have fled the conflict-torn south. Some women organized small but effective networks to collect, transport and sell milk to the cities in Puntland. Two things have helped them: the construction of a major tarmac road that cuts through the region, and the lack of a central government to control and tax them.

Little by little, the marketing of camel milk has expanded. Nowadays hundreds of litres of milk are traded every day from production areas inland to markets in cities over 100 km away.

The value chain involves five sets of actors, from the producers to the retailers who sell to consumers (Figure 31).

Adding value to livestock diversity

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The herders milk the animals and store it in traditional containers, known as haruub, which are treated daily with charcoal to keep them hygienic. This practice gives a typically smoky taste to the milk. The herders walk an average of nearly 9 km each day to bring their morning milk to the primary collectors. They carry it in plastic jerry cans that originally held food oil.

The primary milk collectors (known as kaameley in Somali) are women in mobile camps who follow the herders as they migrate. They pour the milk into their own jerry cans, which they keep clean somehow with special stones and very small amounts of water, which is scarce in the bush. Most require their trading partners in the towns to clean the jerry cans before sending them back to them.

As a rule of thumb, each primary collector serves some 8–20 herding households, though in a good season one collector may serve up to 40 herders. Collectors have various types of ties with the herders they serve: the mobility of the herds and the collectors forces these ties to be loose and flexible.

The primary collectors exchange the milk for cash, basic staples or other items, so they earn not only from their mark-up on the milk, but also by selling goods. They order these goods from their trading partners in town, or direct from wholesalers. They also provide credit to the herders if needed, for example during a lengthy dry season or period of economic hardship. This petty trade and the capacity to buffer their clients’ short-term financial difficulties is a vital livelihood support for many pastoralist households.

Transport companies are hired by women collectors to carry milk, related information and goods between rural and urban areas. Their Toyota pick-ups bring milk from the production areas to the urban markets, and carry commodities from urban stores and markets to rural communities. At least six companies operate from the town of Qardho, about 200 km south of Boosaso, the Puntland capital. During good rainy seasons, the numbers increase.

PART 3: Milk 103 FIGURE 32 Market retailers buy milk from the secondary collectors to sell to consumers The companies, which are run by men, typically have at least three vehicles, and each driver stays overnight in the bush for one or two nights. Each driver drives around different collection sites according to routes negotiated with the primary collectors, delivering water and goods and collecting milk. Each car serves 10–12 primary collectors. All three drivers meet at an agreed place and load their milk onto one of the pickups, which then heads to town. Bringing the milk from the herder to the market can take 9–10 hours or more.

The drivers are vital to ensure that the milk arrives on time and in good condition. With no refrigeration available, they have to drive fast over rough terrain to make sure the milk does not spoil in the heat. While partially fermented milk can still be consumed, it fetches a lower price.

Secondary milk collectors (aanoley in Somali) are based in markets in the towns of Qardho, Garowe and Boosaso. They receive the milk sent each day and sell it directly or distribute it to market retailers. The next day they send the empty jerry cans and a share of the money back to the primary collectors through the same route. Sometimes they also supply imported commodities to their primary collector partners. An average of 2.35 primary collectors supply milk to each secondary collector.

Market retailers take the milk from the secondary collectors and sell it to consumers in the market. They add their own mark-up to the price, and pay the secondary collectors at the end of each day.


Besides delivering milk, containers and money, the transport companies enable a continuous circulation of people and news about rain, pasture conditions, animal health, market prices and events. A majority of the drivers belong to the Midgaan, a minority group in the area.

Adding value to livestock diversity If the transport companies are the lifeblood of the system, the women collectors’ networks are its backbone. These networks hinge on the personal relations between the primary and the secondary milk collectors. These partnerships are fairly stable: they do not change from one season to another. The women are not necessarily related by blood or marriage; instead they talk about “friendship” or “business”, and there are cases where “we only know each others’ names though we don’t know the faces”. Family ties are often important for newcomers to the business, when sisters often form a partnership as primary and secondary collectors. But such ties become less important in the longer term.

Many women who head households are involved in milk marketing: in a survey, about 44% of the women said they were from such households, compared to an average of 35% for the region as a whole. On top of that, another 11% of secondary collectors said their husbands were out of work. This underlines the importance of the milk trade to vulnerable households.

In 2006 the primary milk collectors paid an average of 5 000 Somali shillings for a galaan (about $0.20 for 0.75 litres) of milk. Prices may fall to a low of 4 000 shillings per galaan in the wet seasons (April–June and October–November) when camels produce more milk, rising as high as 7 000 shillings in the dry seasons. Other factors affecting price include transport problems and insecurity.

Transport costs about 1 200 shillings per galaan, though prices may vary markedly depending on distances and road conditions – which are highly related to seasonality.

The secondary collectors typically charge a standard rate of 600 to 1 000 shillings per galaan. The final retail price averages 7 200 shillings, varying from 6 500 shillings in the wet season to 11 000 in the dry.


This remarkable marketing system developed without any external support. But can it be improved? External interventions have been limited to a project by UNA, a consortium of Italian NGOs, through a project funded by the European Commission. This tried to contribute to improving milk quality in local markets. Its small-scale, low-budget community-based investments have shown a degree of success. For example, the project provided aluminium containers through a revolving fund to improve milk hygiene, strengthened local capacities of involved stakeholders, and built basic market facilities in Qardho where milk could be stored and sold in improved conditions.

But the project’s effort to establish a big processing plant to prolong the shelf life of camel milk by pasteurizing and packaging it has faced a number of technological and institutional constraints. Notably, the ownership and control of such big investment, which came from external funding, created a number of problems, which have eventually made it of little relevance to local people. Nowadays it works during some seasons and shuts down or converts to packaging juice in others. Its main failure lies in its inability to establish links and obtain milk from the existing networks of women.

Other interventions, mainly by international NGOs, address animal health in the area.

This is indeed a critical matter affecting milk production and the pastoral economy.

PART 3: Milk 105


Marginal lands, an erratic and drought-prone climate, a scattered and very mobile population, no central government, widespread insecurity, minimal infrastructure and non-existent public services: these are not very promising conditions for sustainable development.

Despite these factors, Somali pastoral society has developed a sustainable and expanding system for marketing milk, one that supplies the cities with a basic food, and supports the livelihoods of many people in both rural and urban areas.

Food security For the herders, selling sheep and goats is a major income source. But animal sales follow seasonal patterns, and are disrupted by Arab countries’ bans on livestock imports from Somalia. For many herders, the daily income from milk marketing is a vital complement to livestock sales, as well as enabling them to buy staple foods and other items. It also enables them to cope better with hazards such as drought, epidemics and conflict, due to the credit system that is attached to milk marketing. By exchanging milk for grain, the women can better feed their families. Milk marketing also serves the nutritional needs of urban residents, who are in dire need of animal proteins.

Milk sales are normally related to the need to earn money; when milk prices are low, many herders stop selling their milk and consume it themselves instead. That explains why in the dry season, 30% of the milk produced is sold, while in the rainy season, when more milk is available, only 27% is sold. It also explains why poorer households market a greater share of their milk: they are in more need of money. Exchanging milk for cereals is a good strategy in caloric terms; milk is rich in protein but low in calories: one kilogram of camel milk has only about 700 calories, while a kilo of rice or wheat has about 3 300–3 500 calories. Changes in terms of trade between these two products are critical, but are generally favourable to herders.

Environment From an environmental perspective, the milk marketing system stimulates rather than constrains livestock mobility, which is vital to allow the natural vegetation to recover. The producers’ herds are not tied to one location, but move in search of forage and water. The primary collectors follow them. In the long dry season, many camel herds are to be found along the eastern coast, far away from the main towns. Milk marketing remunerates productivity, and thus provides incentives to herd mobility.

A new pattern of herd management seems to have emerged. Previously, young herders would take milking camels far away from the hut, leaving flocks of sheep and goats to graze nearby. Now, the lactating camels are being split into two groups: one sent to distant pastures, and the other kept near the hut to produce milk for sale. In addition, herders are increasingly using cement-lined reservoirs to water sheep and goats, so these animals are less likely to be herded as far as the coastal belt.

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