“Camels for Drylands” project completed

Pastoralist peoples in northern Kenya in particular are facing great suffering as a result of climate change. With support from Biovision and Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Suisse, the people affected have implemented various measures to increase their resilience.


Increased resilience against droughts: the dromedary population has tripled in Isiolo County within 20 years.

By Peter Lüthi, Biovision (text and images) and Christian Bobst (images)

What remains of a finished project? In the case of the longstanding project “Camels for Drylands” by Biovision and Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Suisse (VSF-Suisse) in Isiolo County, Kenya, a great deal: more than 200 pastoralist families are now keeping one-humped camels (dromedaries) instead of cattle, and know how to breed and hygienically milk the newly introduced animals. Since the closure of the project, 700 dromedaries continue to be kept, and their population is growing. They are much more robust against droughts than cows and produce about twice the amount of milk. The villages are also proud of their 58 trained animal health reporters, who are integrated into a well-functioning surveillance system for livestock diseases. When in doubt about a disease, the reporters send completed questionnaires via smartphone to the authorities in Isiolo Town. There, veterinarians make remote diagnoses, respond to emergencies and fight impending epidemics early on.

Marketing and value chain for camel milk

One of the project’s major successes is the operative system for collecting and marketing camel milk. It connects herder families, even those living in remote areas, with consumers via a central collection and processing plant. Depending on the season, 4,000 – 7,000 litres of camel milk are collected daily in the dairy in Isiolo Town before being checked for germs and quality, then cooled. Some of the milk is processed into cheese, yoghurt and other specialties. These products are sold directly in Isiolo Town and are very popular with local customers. The rest of the milk is transported in refrigerated trucks to the metropolis of Nairobi and sold on the market. The income from the sales flows back to the dairy and thus to the cooperative members and the camel owners.


Clean water and a renovated house: Sadia Mohamed has prudently invested profits from camel milk sales and improved her livelihood.

Knowledge increases the more it is shared

The newly acquired knowledge of the people who were involved in the project remains intact and can grow. This is shown by the example of Ms Sadia Mohamed. Now 49 years old, she was able to take over a camel mare from her mother. The village community had chosen the elderly woman to be a camel owner because of a physical handicap and a particularly high risk of poverty. Her daughter Sadia recognised the opportunity and demonstrated how a dromedary could improve her living situation. She started selling camel milk by the roadside in Isiolo. She rapidly expanded her stock by buying vegetables to resell. She saved up and invested in the rent for a shop in a good location. This enabled her to significantly improve her business and put resources into rabbit keeping. Today Sadia Mohamed owns three camels plus rabbits, a renovated house with rooms for rent, and a 5,000-litre tank of clean drinking water.

What’s next? “I help women become more self-reliant and respected, and I assist them with the creation of their own businesses,” she says. “It is so humiliating when you have to ask your husband for every cent. I want other women in my community to become as self-reliant and independent as I am.”