The Somali community in East Africa has the largest population and highest density of camels in the world, and to the same extent the camel pervades the Somali culture. 25% of the world’s camels are found in greater Somalia, which includes Somali populated region of the Ogaden in Ethiopia. Based on 1998 FAO estimates of livestock numbers and past growth rates, Somaliland has about 1.69 million camels.
For centuries, camel milk has played an integral part of every Somali’s diet. Herders and pastoralists are known to survive on just camel milk as their daily diet. As Somaliland’s population settles in cities such as Hargeisa, Borama and Burao, urban dwellers have access to fewer sources of the nourishing drink due to erratic availability and lack of dairy sanitation.
Historically, the geographical area that is now Somalia/Somaliland may have been a focal point in the introduction and dispersal of the domesticated dromedary. Somali pastoralists are a camel community mainly because of the dry and harsh environment they live in; pastoralists, by definition, being those who primarily derive their living from the management of livestock on rangelands. There is no other community in the world where the camel plays such a pivotal role in the local economy and culture as in the Somali community. The camel is an important livestock species uniquely adapted to hot and arid environments, and therefore contributes significantly to the food security of the nomadic pastoral households.
Other than its transporting capability, the camel is best known for its nutritious milk. It has a smoky flavor, and is medically proven to contain several health benefits as well as being a high nutritious food source. They are known ‘browsers’ and can therefore select from a variety of plants as a source of food. In fact the flavor of the milk is determined by the leaves/plants it feeds on. Some being sweet in taste and others slightly more bitterly.