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4 April 2024

“Camel is more of a beneficiary than a victim of climate change”

Veterinary medicine for camel health and welfare

Photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu

Bernard Faye is an expert in camel farming. He previously worked as a scientific project manager in the animal production sector at the International Cooperation Centre for Agronomic Research in Development (CIRAD-France). Additionally, he has served as an international camel expert for FAO in several countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Mauritania, Chad, and Kazakhstan.



How have camelids traditionally played a vital role in African communities, and what specific functions do they serve within these societies, especially in regions facing environmental and economic challenges?

Camel is a multipurpose animal used traditionally to carry goods and humans, to produce milk, meat, leather, and wool fibre, and to contribute to desertification combat (feeding behaviour, dissemination of desert seeds, soft feet pressure, wide interval between watering…). Camel also plays an important role in the nomad culture, contributing to the events of life such as festival and to sports like race in the Middle East or the camel polo in Mongolia. In traditional communities, camels are not “specialized”, meaning not devoted to one specific role. For instance, a dairy camel can be used for racing, while a male can be used for carrying goods or persons.

What key challenges do you see in the sustainable management of camelids, and what solutions or strategies have you been involved in to address these challenges?

In Africa, camels faced their geographical expansion in less arid places with higher risks of diseases. In many countries, camels face intensification of production because production is becoming more specialized, with less mobility, higher protein, and energy concentration in feeds. These changes require a thorough understanding of the impact on camel metabolism and physiology, the selection of more adapted camels to such new status, and investigating possible innovations in camel management to address this new context. My work aimed to contribute to this approach. For example, in intensive farm, monotonous feed is generally distributed twice a day, and the camel spends a few hours eating while in pasture, they spend at least eight hours looking for a wide variety of plants. So, in zero-grazing a system, allowing the camel to take more time to eat is important by using system allowing step-by-step feed distribution.

As an expert in the field, how do you foresee the impact of climate change on camelids and what measures can be taken to mitigate these effects?

I wrote a paper on this aspect, and I mentioned that the main impact of climate change was the geographical expansion of camel farming, especially in Africa, but also in Western countries, with the consequences given above. This geographical expansion is not linked to the expansion of traditional camel herders but to the adoption of camels by traditional exclusively cattle breeders in complement to their cattle herd and by farmers to secure their farming system in the face of the drought. It is also linked to the economic interest of camelid products such as milk, meat, and wool. Contrary to popular belief, the camel is a beneficiary rather than a victim of climatic changes. However, it may be affected by changes in disease patterns with the emergence of multifactorial and metabolic diseases rather than classical diseases like mange or trypanosomosis.

How do you think advancements in technology and research can improve the health and productivity of camelids in various parts of the world?

Camelology, the study of camels, is gaining important attention worldwide in three ways: Firstly,  camels are used as biological models, for example, with camel immunoglobin also known as “nanoantibodies”, being of particular medical interest. Secondly, camels are being recognised as producing animals in harsh conditions, and, finally, camels are being considered as an element in arid ecosystems. In response, some camel research institutes and organizations were established, proposing innovative technologies for improving camel productivity, such as milk processing, genetic investigations, assisted reproduction, and feeding. Other researchers focus on camel health, notably on pharmacokinetics to better adapt medicine to camel physiology. However, there is a gap in the quality of research between countries with high scientific potential (such as those in the Middle East and North Africa) and the poorest countries (like the Sahelian countries). While, in the latter, their needs are more urgent due to the importance of their camel population and the role of camels for pastoralists in providing a source of income and securing their production system in the face of climatic changes, they have lower scientific potential. This is particularly significant given the recurrent droughts in the region.

What initiatives or projects have you been involved in that focus on sustainable practices in camelid management, and what were the outcomes of these efforts?

 I was involved in many projects with different partners as a “key person”, but in the recent past, the most critical projects were 2 European projects (PROCAMED on the promotion of technical innovations in the camel sector around the Mediterranean, and CAMELMILK on the development of camel milk sector in Mediterranean Basin) and with FAO in different countries: in Saudi Arabia (improvement of camel milk production and processing), in Mauritania (development of biotechnology of reproduction, camel milk processing, typology of farming systems), in Oman (economic analysis of the camel milk sector, training the woman association for processing camel milk, improvement of camel hygiene), in Chad (analysis of the camel milk value chain around N’Djamena). I also contributed to a project in Kazakhstan with the University to assess the conditions for getting organic camel milk. I participated in many training sessions for camel farmers on milk hygiene and processing in France, Spain, Algeria, Turkey, Oman, Chad, Mauritania, Morocco and Kazakhstan. It’s difficult to summarise the outcomes, but I can say that there has been an improvement in camel milk hygiene from production to processing, establishment of the biological and pathological values of blood biochemistry, and a better understanding of the camel welfare, and lastly, an investigation of camel biodiversity.

Kenyan herders milking camel

photo credit: ILRI/Ida Rademaker

Considering your expertise, what are the emerging trends or innovations in camelid research and management that you find particularly promising or impactful?

There is significant interest, especially in the medical sector, in nanoantibodies. However, I’m not convinced by the improvement of artificial insemination, but there is good hope regarding embryo-transfer, which allows for a convenient selection of more adapted camels in a “modern world”. There are also many innovations regarding milk and meat processing, wool and leather valorisation on market, genetic biodiversity and pharmacokinetic. Despite the advancements, managing the main diseases such as mange or trypanosomosis remains challenging.

How do the sustainable practices of indigenous people in African communities regarding meat, milk, and hair fibre production align with broader global efforts towards environmentally friendly and ethical production methods?

Many indigenous people in Africa live in remote places far away from the consumption basin. Consequently, it is difficult for them to be involved in the national economy, especially in the milk market, where hygienic quality is often a concern.

Camel herders in Africa face challenges in the wool and meat sector. While there are a few cases of successful wool valorisation, such as a women cooperative in Mauritania, high-quality wool products are scarce. Regarding the meat sector, merchants control the market, especially for export by foot or trucks, and the local slaughtering conditions often lack welfare conditions. However, peri-urbanisation, when camel herders approach urban areas, has improved practices in camel herding. This included better milk hygiene, better collection of wool and introduction to the local market. Despite the progress, only the productive parts of the camel herd such as lactating females and young animals for fattening, are involved in the peri-urbanisation.  The non-productive parts, such as the young animals kept for breeding, non-lactating females, males used for reproduction or castrated males for packing remain in pastoral areas. As a result, there is a spatial differentiation of the herd, and the pastoral way complements the intensive way.

What are the roles and challenges women typically face in the industry, and how are these challenges being addressed to create a more inclusive and empowering environment?

The role of women varies from country to country, with some not being involved in the meat sector and breeding. However, they have traditionally been highly present in milk and wool processing. Especially, milk processing and marketing provide regular incomes, unlike meat that occurs once in the camel’s life, and strongly help to ensure the treasury of the household. In Kenya, women have developed important enterprises that process and market camel milk. Another example is In Mauritania, where a woman faced various obstacles while introducing the first-ever industrial camel dairy plant. The difficulties weren’t due to gender but because it was uncommon to market camel milk in African societies. Traditionally, camel milk was considered a gift to guests, and selling it was considered shameful. The transition from a “gift economy to a “market economy” occurred recently, not more than 30 years ago.

What are the primary obstacles that remote communities encounter when seeking basic animal health care for their livestock, particularly in the context of camelids?

The main obstacles in remote places are the lack of access to convenient medicine and veterinarians. Many projects have tried to implement cooperative pharmacies and veterinary auxiliaries (with basic training of camel farmers to distribute medicine). Moreover, the camel market is straight compared to other ruminant markets, and pharmaceutical companies rarely develop medicines specific to camels. In addition, low-quality medicines proposed by fraudsters and traffickers, directly on local markets outside any official agreement by the vet authorities contribute to lower protection of the animals against diseases.


This interview is part of SIANI’s ‘Tune in to Food Systems’ interview series composed of monthly interview articles with experts across fields dedicated to sustainable food systems.