HomeProgressMilk of camels and goats to improve climate resilience, the study ...

Milk from camels and goats to improve climate resilience, the study in Nature Food

Reducing the number of cattle and increasing camels and goats for milk production is a useful option for improving the climate resilience of populations living in the arid and semi-arid areas of northern sub-Saharan Africa. The trend is the subject of a study published in Nature Food.

Milk from camels and goats

Milk production in northern sub-Saharan Africa it plays an important role in guaranteeing the subsistence and food security of local populations - 256 million inhabitants mostly dependent on agricultural and livestock activities - and neighboring ones.

From this area 86% of the milk consumed in all of Sub-Saharan Africa comes from, ie 30 Mt, divided into 65% of milk from cattle, 25% from goats and 10% from camels. Camel milk, in fact, is still not very widespread in Europe, but it is known to have less saturated fat and lactose and more minerals and vitamins (especially vitamin C and B vitamins) than cow's milk. And in Africa it is rapidly winning over new consumers.

The weight of climate change

The demand for milk in sub-Saharan Africa it has increased by 4% annually in recent decades and is estimated to triple by 2050. But climate change, as the drought worsens, puts a strain on its production.

milk production in sub-Saharan Africa

Some communities of pastors in arid areas (for example, Wodaâbe in Niger, Massaï in Kenya, Borana in Ethiopia, Nuer in South Sudan and Fulani in West Africa) have already begun to combat adversity by increasing the number of goats and camels. Compared to cattle, in fact, these animals enjoy greater climatic resilience, in terms of resistance to drought and scarcity of feed. And they produce milk (and meat) in all seasons. Without underestimating the usefulness of diversifying the source of income, to better tolerate economic, political and ecological instability.

The race for herd diversification

The choice to diversify dairy animals is shared by 'over 71,5% of families surveyed by a Borana community survey of Isiolo County, Northern Kenya', report the authors of the study, who aim to identify the areas most affected by this' adaptive' transformation and to measure its impact in terms of milk production and environmental sustainability.

'We found ten cases in the arid areas of NSSA (North Sub-Saharan Africa, ed) where the transition from cattle to goats and camels is already evident (East Pokot and Isiolo County in Kenya; Ngorongoro in Tanzania; Afar, Yabelo, Moyale and Jijiga in Ethiopia; Somaliland in Somalia; Misseriyya Shepherds in Sudan; Kaduna and Kano States in Nigeria) and these overlap the areas we have identified in deteriorating conditions (climatic, ed)'indicate the study authors.

The ideal model

By evaluating each variableFinally, the researchers defined the ideal model, which is the best combination of the herd in terms of

  • maximum milk production,
  • lower water / feed consumption,
  • low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

It turns out that the ideal herd composition in dry areas requires a major change

  • 9,7% of cattle, compared to the current 34,7%,
  • 68,3% of goats, against the current 52%,
  • 22% of camels, now at 13,3%.
replacement of dairy cattle with camels and goats in arid areas
Image taken from the study in note 1.

In semi-arid areas, the ideal combination is indicated in

  • 24% cattle (from the current 47,7%),
  • 58,3% goats (now 46,3),
  • 17,7% camels (now 6%).
replacement of dairy cattle with camels and goats in semi-arid areas
Image taken from the study in note 1.

The unsurpassed middle ground

At the end of the treatment they also developed three extreme herd modification hypotheses:

  • 100% goats,
  • 100% camels,
  • 50% goats and 50% camels.

All extreme solutions have proved inconvenient. 'For example, in the case of the 100% goat scenario, although replacing 100% of cattle with goats has advantages in terms of feed consumption (-15%), water consumption (-33%) and gas emissions. greenhouse (-9%), milk production in this scenario would decrease by 26%'explain the researchers.

Goat and camel milk, increasing demand

Of necessity by virtue. In some sub-Saharan regions, goat and camel milk is the subject of growing demand, fueled also by the dissemination of information on their valuable nutritional profile.

'In Samburu County, in Kenya, where historically camel farming was not common, it has been reported that families currently prefer camel milk to other types of milk. Over the past decade, the market for goat and camel products has also expanded significantly in NSSA with growing demand and growing awareness of health benefits of these products (particularly in the case of camel milk / meat). For example, rapid growth in demand for camel milk and the camel milk value chain has been reported in Somalia.'.

The obstacles

Despite the question grow, some difficulties remain in the remodeling of pastoralism. Two above all:

  • economic obstacles, with female camels costing three times as much as cows. 'In Kenya's livestock markets in 2021, a camel cost US $ 421-526, which was equivalent to 2–3 cattle or 10 goats’,
  • the lack of knowledge and expertise related to animal husbandry and management practices and the initial costs of purchasing additional equipment and technology needed to run goats and camels. 'When switching from bovine to camel, although a mature camel may offer a higher economic return rate than cattle and goats (depending on the type of herd, breed of livestock, food situation, location, etc.), camels may have financial disadvantages due to their lower reproductive rate than other species, due to their relatively late puberty (3 years) and the longest interval between calving (2 years)'.

The wishes of the researchers

The aforementioned advantages and difficulties they require a political commitment above all, in support of pastors engaged in this transition.

- stakeholders and animal husbandry research organizations'should adopt a multisectoral approach that prioritizes future research on reproductive services, disease control and nutrition for these species'.

Such an effort, 'should emphasize both heat-resistant cattle breeds and increased goat / camel milk production. Finally, improvements in goat and camel dairy supply chains, such as processing technologies to improve goat and camel dairy markets, facilities to transport milk to local markets, and distribution infrastructure and processing for production markets, are essential to harness the full potential of changes in herd composition and realize the vision of sustainable and safe dairy production for food in the NSA by 2030', conclude the authors of the study.


(1) Rahimi, J., Fillol, E., Mutua, JY et al. A shift from cattle to camel and goat farming can sustain milk production with lower inputs and emissions in north sub-Saharan Africa's drylands. Nat Food 3, 523-531 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-022-00543-6

Marta Strinati
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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".

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