From the Desert to the Dairy: Interview with Camel-Milk Entrepreneur Nancy Abeiderrahmane
October 12, 2006
Global Policy Innovations: What is the principle difficulty you have encountered in the collection of camel's milk?
Nancy Abeiderrahmane: The major hurdle was and is the traditional prejudice against selling milk, [which is] considered to be mean and demeaning. As a result, the only people willing to sell it gladly are the less "noble" strata of traditional society, to put it that way. In other words, those perceived as less educated, less clean, less able to invest. That is changing slowly, and is considered by many to be a great achievement. The camels are milked by hand and the milk is carried in alloy or plastic cans over rough terrain. Which is not to say that they are carried by running messenger. There is quite a lot of diesel power involved. And donkey power! Also, the huge distances in this country make transport costly. Some of the milk travels up to 90 kilometers to get to the dairy. This together with the high temperatures makes it difficult to get the milk in good condition to the collecting centers where it is chilled instantly. Even so, compared to other similar countries our raw milk quality is quite reasonable—we receive raw milk with a plate count ranging from 300,000 to 1,500,000. Seasonal variations in milk quantity and quality are also quite spectacular in the arid / monsoon environment. Of course, the fact that suppliers move around does not make things easy, but since we do not collect directly, the herders sort themselves out with the transporters and most of the milk finds its way to the collection centers.
GPI: Why do you collect the milk from nomads rather than farming it yourself closer to where the milk is processed?
Abeiderrahmane: For several reasons. One is that I never had enough money to set up a farm in addition to the plant. Another is that I am not a husbandry specialist. I think it is best for each operator to do what he or she can do best, and I am convinced that the local herders know how to herd livestock in the desert, whereas I don't. What locals can't do, I would certainly not be able to do, particularly if it had to be done by employees far away. Another reason is that, owing to low individual yield, it would require thousands of local animals to produce enough milk for the plant, and foreign animals do not function well here, or even survive. There is no really practical location. The dairy is 200 km up-desert from the Senegal river valley, so I would need to produce fodder, and that is a separate set of problems that I would be unable to tackle. But the main reason is that initially the idea was not to make lots of money, but to do something useful for the country and make an honest penny on the way. The dairy has outgrown my wildest dreams.
GPI: What is your vision of the future for camel's milk products?
Abeiderrahmane: Camel milk is great stuff. There is not that much of it on the planet, so it should have a bright future. However, it is tricky to process, and camels tend to be in the wrong place with respect to markets, so logistics are an issue.
GPI: Finally, Are you aware of any way that we can sample camel's milk products here in the United States?
Abeiderrahmane: Unfortunately, there are no processed products in the States right now. We are unable to export due to certain non-tariff barriers in potential importer countries.