The Booming Camel Trade in the Horn of Africa
Last year, war-torn Somalia saw the highest in two decades export revenue from the sale of livestock abroad: $384 million. The increasing trade is a result of increased demand from the Gulf states for camel meat. The booming camel trade is a source of hope for the otherwise unfortunate country.

Once called the “Switzerland of Africa,” Somalia has been entrenched in a bloody civil war between the government and Islamist militant groups since 1986. Estimates place deaths between 350,000 and 1 million.

This year, hope glimmers in the Horn of Africa. The first democratic elections are under way, using a unique model drafted with the help of the United Nations, amid allegations of mass corruption.

In the peaceful regions, progress is taking place. The government has expanded its port facilities for shipping livestock, including camels, goats, and cattle. The animals are shipped mainly from the port of the capital, Mogadishu, but also from the northern ports of Bosaso and Berbera.

Somalia is home to world’s largest population of camels, a third of all on the planet. With an impressive number of 7.2 million animals, they surpass the next biggest herd, in Sudan, by almost 50 percent. They are also the largest camel milk producer worldwide “by far,” according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United nations.

The FAO has worked with the Somali government in the past five years to invest heavily in livestock infrastructure, vaccination programs and producing fodder. The capital for this initiative is coming from the European Union and the U.K. Of the country’s 10.5 million people, more than half rely on livestock for food and income, the Somali Chamber of Commerce has concluded.

The traditional methods used by Somali herders render the meat a unique taste that is desired in the Gulf. The government is trying to market it elsewhere as well. The booming camel trade is expanding to new markets. They recently started exporting to Egypt and are scheduled to begin trade with Malaysia.

The trade of livestock accounts for 40 percent of Somalia’s gross domestic product and is expected to reach 50 percent by next year. It is also the most important source of foreign-exchange earnings, only outnumbered by remittances from Somali diaspora, a central bank official told Bloomberg news.

The booming camel trade is not limited to Somalia. Camels from Sudan and Eritrea are also in high demand. The Rashaida tribe who lives there is known to produce the world’s best racing camels. These are coveted by the high-income countries of the Gulf who traditionally host camel races.

Buyers from the United Arab Emirates buy every year 100 to 300 young camels from the small village of Abu Talha. Some sell for as much as $80,000. Sudan’s exports more than tripled between 2010 and 2013 to $670 million, when the last World Bank data was available.

“The camels are everything, they give us meat, milk, and trade,” Hamed Hamid, a member of the Rashaida tribe told the Economist.

Eliza Gkritsi

Photo: Flickr