So finally, European Union has approved the import of first major brand of camel milk from Dubai. With camel milk now being sold in health food shops and upmarket shopping malls, a huge untapped potential market opens up for India. It is expected that by 2012, ordinary popular retail supermarkets in Europe will start carrying camel milk on its shelves.
United States is also in the process of testing camel milk before giving final approval for commercialisation. Like in the case of buffalo milk, for which the commercial approval came some 5 years back, camel milk too is under active consideration. Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations expects the global market for camel milk to be around US $ 5.6 billion.
There are 200 million camel milk consumers in the Middle East and Africa alone. India too has a substantial domestic market.
“I have decided to process and export camel milk,” Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, told me recently, adding that he is hopeful that such an initiative will help those who need it the most. He knows that camel rearing is confined to the nomads, who form part of the backward and scheduled tribes, and have been relegated through centuries to the margins. “It will improve the socio-economic condition of these poorest of the poor, and that is what I am excited about.”
There is a lot of truth in this statement. Although camel is hailed as the ‘ship of the desert’, those who own these animals have been living in poverty. Camel herders are confined to the lowest strata of the economy and have survived because of their nomadic lifestyle. Distributed across the arid and semi-arid regions of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana, the poor economic status of the camel owners has come in the way of improving the domestic breeds.
Value-addition through commercialisation of milk production of the camels, which are at present treated no more than a beast of burden, will surely bring about the necessary turnaround. The ‘ship of the desert’ will then turn into a dual-purpose animal.
Modi has asked the milk cooperative Amul to look into the processing and export of camel milk. This may not be that difficult since the Bikaner-based National Research Centre on Camels has already developed products like ice-cream, flavoured milk, curd and kheer. A modern camel dairy has also been set up within the campus.
Not only ice-cream, some companies in the Middle East are also manufacturing chocolate exclusively from camel milk. Billed as a luxurious high quality chocolate, it states that camel milk contains vitamins, minerals and “healing powers”. The commercial potential therefore remains huge.
In India, although Gujarat is aiming at the export market, Rajasthan Dairy Cooperative Federation had sometimes back taken to production, processing and marketing of pasteurised camel milk. It was in 2008 that the former Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhra Raje, had launched pasteurised camel milk in New Delhi. Camel milk is available – both as plain and flavoured -- under the brand name of saras. Camel milk is available also in Jaipur and Bikaner.
However, the capital has still not developed a taste for it. This is primarily because camel milk has still to be marketed aggressively. Consumers largely remain ignorant about the benefits curative camel milk offers. Nor has the sale of camel milk made any significant dent on the income of those who rear the animals. This is because the government as well as the industry has still to wake up to the immense therapeutic advantages that camel milk offers over cow and buffalo milk. This has to be followed by a milk collection drive on the lines of Amul milk cooperatives, wherein small producers too get the benefit. Collection centres have to be established in the remote areas of Rajasthan and Gujarat. Since cow milk is low in fats, my suggestion is that camel owners should be provided with a fixed procurement price.
According to FAO, certain antibodies in camels' milk can help fight diseases like cancer, HIV/Aids, Alzheimer's and hepatitis C. It is also believed that regular intake of camel milk helps reduce the effects of diabetes and heart disease.Slightly saltier than traditional milk, camel milk is popular in the semi-arid regions of the country. Considered to be containing three times more Vitamin C and 10 times more iron than cow’s milk, it is a rich source of Vitamin B and also contains high levels of minerals. According to FAO, certain antibodies in camels' milk can help fight diseases like cancer, HIV/Aids, Alzheimer's and hepatitis C. It is also believed that regular intake of camel milk helps reduce the effects of diabetes and heart disease.
Camels' milk could be a useful addition to the diet as it contains less saturated fat (just 1.85% fat) than cow's milk containing (regular whole fat cow's milk contains 5%). Being low in saturated fat, it is naturally semi-skimmed, thereby reducing the need for added processing. Also, and more significantly for domestic consumers, camel milk can be safely stored for more than 48 hours without any deterioration in quality.
In Hindi: मरूधरा में दूध का जहाज