Milk, meat and power: in Somalia, “the dromedary is king”


Milk, meat and power: in Somalia, “the dromedary is king” Ali Abdi Elmi is thirsty, and his journey through the Somali desert promises to be long and painful. The nomad turns to one of his dromedaries, pours some of his milk into a wooden cup and delights in a large swig.

“I have five children and we we all depend on camel’s milk to survive, “comments this man from 25 years old with sun-tanned skin, met more than an hour from Hargeisa, Somaliland, North West region from Somalia which has since seceded 1991.

Reputed to be haughty and grumpy, the dromedary is in Somalia celebrated in popular songs as a symbol of prosperity. We exchange it at weddings or to settle conflicts.

The breeding of camels, or other animals, is a pillar of the economy of Somalia, a rural country of some 15 millions of the poorest people in the world, devastated by wars and climatic disasters.

AFP The livestock industry is one of the major contributors to economic growth in Somalia and represents , normally, 80% of exports according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Dromedaries are far less numerous than sheep and goats . But with seven million heads, Somalia is home to one of the largest herds in the world.

Conferring respect on their owner, they are also a source of wealth. “We have no oil. The dromedaries are our oil,” said Abdi Rashid, a merchant at the largest cattle market in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland.

Dromedaries are very important in Somali culture because someone is considered wealthy or can rise in social status depending on the number of dromedaries they have. A particularly robust beast can cost up to 1. dollars (860 euros), believes Khosar Abdi Hussein, the head of the market, where the milk is sold fresh and where even dromedary urine – to which many virtues are attributed – is bottled.

AFP The sales are concluded by shaking hands under the secrecy of large shawls worn by camel drivers. The number of joints and fingers that are touched in this way determines the price. The transaction is finalized by a mobile money transfer, the only touch of modernity to this millennial business.

“Camels are very important in Somali culture because someone is considered rich or can increase in social status depending on the number of camels he has “, continues Mr. Hussein, who claims to have nine.

But in Somalia, where nearly 70% of the population lives in poverty according to the World Bank, few people own even one camel. Mr. Elmi is one of the two-thirds of Somalis who raise livestock and, although he earns limited income compared to traders , he considers his animals as a gift from God. The animal continues to produce milk even in times of drought, feeding nomads who can spend a month in the desert with no other means of survival.

AFP “Milk is good for us, because camels graze on trees with medicinal properties that help fight disease,” says Mr. Elmi.

In difficult times, the farmer can always sell milk to buy essential goods for his family.

When this is not enough, he can have the milk slaughtered. one of his animals and sell his meat in town, considered a delicacy.

Life rough The life of the breeders is difficult and made even harder by the increasing rains erratic in the Horn of Africa which is drying up ra Quickly according to American scientists.

AFP Global warming forces nomads to travel greater distances to find water and pasture.

End 1991, Cyclone Gati – the strongest tropical storm to hit Somalia – killed thousands of dromedaries and other livestock. The floods then transformed the desert into the sea. Two years earlier, a prolonged drought had decimated until 47% of herds in some parts of the country, according to FAO. These losses have the systematic consequence of increasing hunger in Somalia, pushing millions of people to flee to towns which are foreign to them.

In Somaliland, the authorities want to relocate these displaced people along the Gulf of Aden – an inconceivable environment for the people of the desert. Hussein, the owner of the market, does not see the camel drivers converting to fishing: “Here, the dromedary is king”.

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