Rajasthan’s constant struggle to save the camel herding tradition

August 21, 2020 2:42 PM

By being able to survive in the harsh desert temperatures, camels have been very beneficial for humans in the past.

Rajasthan, Rajasthan Ship of the Desert, camel herding tradition, Raikas, camel herders, covid 19 pandemic, camel milk, camel milk benefitsAcross the globe, the collective camel population is starkly decreasing. (IE photo)

By Hitesh Rathi, 

Rajasthan’s state animal, fondly known as the Ship of the Desert, is the mighty camel. For centuries, camels have worked tirelessly as modes of transportation for humans and cargo alike. They have worked relentlessly alongside their trusted herders and have become close companions for many tribes, like the Raikas, who have been camel herders since eons.

By being able to survive in the harsh desert temperatures, camels have been very beneficial for humans in the past. But, more than their ability to thrive in arid conditions, camels have been lauded for their nutritious and delicious milk. In fact, it is popularly believed that the Raika’s survived a year-long famine only by consuming camel milk. The synergistic relationship between this tribe and camels, then, comes as no surprise.

For years, while the Raika’s did business with camels, they were strictly against selling their milk. They believed that these are sacred animals with milk that has miraculous powers. However, over the years, the tribe has delved into selling the milk and monetizing the prized elixir. But, why and how did the camel herders change their mind about selling the milk? The reality, unfortunately, is grim.

Plummeting camel populations and allied issues faced by the country’s camel herders

Across the globe, the collective camel population is starkly decreasing. Recently, Australia had announced the culling of almost 10,000 camels since they were impinging on resources like water. As horrifying as this sounds, it is the reality of the majestic camel today. Closer home, India has also witnessed a worrying drop in the number of camels. While it had the 7th largest camel population in the world with more than 10 lakh camels in 1991, this number has declined to 2.5 lakh as of now.

86% of India’s camels reside in Rajasthan, and the dwindling numbers have the Raika’s seriously concerned. At the same time, the costs of breeding camels are increasing steadily, making it tougher for the humble tribe to continue to take quality care of their animals. Further, camels are not being sold at the same high prices as before. While breeders could earn up to INR 20,000 for a healthy camel at a camel trading fair in the past, today the price can go as low as INR 500.

With modernization, the economic importance of camels has decreased and so have their grazing pastures. Sadly, the odds are against camels and their loyal breeders. The monetization of camel milk, therefore, is the only option for the indigenous camel herders to save their animals and keep up the tradition of camel herding.

Hope in the form of healthful milk

For the camels in India, there is still hope left. Across the globe, camel milk is being lauded for its multiple health benefits and unique taste. As the world moves beyond typical dairy milk to healthier alternatives, the economic relevance of camels is set to skyrocket once again. Recently recognized as a superfood, camel milk has been proven to be much healthier than the more commonly consumed cow and buffalo milk.

The milk has high levels of protein, vitamin C, iron, and is low fat.It also boosts immunity and promotes healthy growth in humans. It has also been proven to help in the management of diabetes. It also helps in regulating blood pressure and reducing the chances of stroke. That the Raika’s survived on camel milk alone for months on end is a positive testament to the health benefits of camel milk.

Now, fortunately, startups are setting up camel milk dairies and micro-dairies across key camel herding regions in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Herders are selling camel milk for handsome sums and earning enough money to sustain their herds and families. Thanks to its immense health benefits, the demand arises from across the world and not just India. Apart from milk, brands are also manufacturing and selling camel milk-based products like skincare and flavored milk powders. As a result of this growth and relevance for camels, herders can look forward to a bright future for their animals as well as a steady income for their families.

The author is , Founder, Aadvik Foods. Views expressed are the author’s own.

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