In Kenya, your next coffee could be a “camel-ccino”

(CNN) – While the tea can be that of Kenya biggest export, a new drink is brewing in the center of Nairobi: cappuccinos made from camel milk.

At CJ’s Restaurant, a popular cafe in downtown Nairobi, manager Omar Shariff noticed a change. While the demand for camel milk in the past was largely driven by the local Somali community which has grown up with more and more customers today asking for it.

Now its menu offers drinks such as “camel-ccinos” and “camelattes”, with the intention of introducing camel products beyond drinks, such as a camel burger.

Although camel milk is consumed around the world in other regions – including much of the Middle East, parts of Asia, and Australia – its popularity in East Africa has remained. largely within rural groups. But broader interest both regionally and globally began to grow, with prices leading some to dub milk “white gold”.

“Camel milk in the international market is incredibly lucrative,” notes David Hewett, ranch manager for the Mpala Research Center on the Laikipia Plateau in north-central Kenya. “Half a liter of finished milk costs between $ 10 and $ 20,” he says, compared to conventional cow’s milk which sells for around 50 cents per half liter in the United States.

Tap into an abundant spring

The African continent is home to 80% of the world’s camels, with around 60% residing in East Africa alone. In Kenya, more than four million camels roam the country’s pastoral lands, a number that has quadrupled since 1999, according to the Kenya Camel Association.

Despite being a long-standing daily staple for some in the region, the drink lacks an organized and widespread route to the market. Instead, milk is most often found in informal markets across the country.

From yogurt to “camel-ccinos”, Kenyan farmers seek to formalize the sector and bring this superfood to the masses.

Even without a formalized supply chain, the sector contributes 10 to 12 billion Kenyan shillings ($ 90 to 108 million) annually to the country’s economy, says Khalif Abey of the Kenya Camel Association.

For one of East Africa’s largest camel milk producers, White Gold Camel Milk, the growth opportunities are obvious. The company produces 500 liters of milk per day, company CEO Jama Warsame noting that local demand has led the company to branch out into other value-added products like flavored camel milk and yogurt.

The attraction of adaptation

As large parts of East Africa continue to experience longer and more intense episodes of drought, camels have also become a climate-friendly alternative food source.

According to Kenya’s National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), Kenyans living across 23 counties face reduced food supplies due to drought and will need food assistance over the next six months. Unlike herds of cows and sheep, camels can go 100 miles without water and can maintain their freshness at temperatures above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. “It provides a hedge in dry weather as the pressure is on traditional livestock,” Hewett says, as “the camels will continue to produce milk.”

Camels can continue to produce milk even when valuable resources like rain are hard to come by.

Nick Migwi / CNN

Beyond climate considerations, Shariff says a growing clientele of health-conscious consumers has prompted establishments like CJ’s Restaurant to serve milk.

“We have several people, from gym instructors to health nutritionists, who say they’ve found a lot of interesting facts about camel milk and its benefits,” he says.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says camel milk has triple the amount of vitamin C compared to cow’s milk. Ongoing studies have also shown evidence that milk can lower cholesterol and improve digestive disorders.

Overcome the bump

Although potential markets for growth exist, a number of challenges continue to hamper the expansion of camel milk in Kenya. Limited roads and the lack of infrastructure and cold stores prevent large-scale production and delivery of the dairy.

02_marketplace africa camel milk

To develop the sector, the camel milk industry in Kenya is pushing for a more formal value chain.

Nick Migwi / CNN

“Where most of the pastoralists live, it is a difficult environment. We have to invest in refrigerated trucks. We have to invest in the creation of a collection center,” says Warsame.

For a sector built on a network of small family farms, developing the sector to export to profitable markets abroad also presents other obstacles.

“It is very difficult to meet international standards for disease management and control in a multitude of dairy markets produced by smallholder farmers,” Hewett notes.

Despite the challenges, industry leaders are pushing for a formal value chain to be established. With the right infrastructure, the Kenya Camel Association says the sector could be worth around $ 200 million per year and impact 10 to 12 million households in northern Kenya whose livelihoods depend on these animals.

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