In the parched and arid landscape where Hadado village is located in Wajir West Sub County lives 50-year-old Salada Yusuf, who derives her livelihood from trading in Camel milk.
Salada has been selling camel milk in Hadado for over 10 years. Like other women in her village, she relies on camel milk as a crucial source of income to support her nine children.
As climate change escalates worldwide, the frequency of droughts is making life harder for residents of Hadado like Salada. In 2011, Wajir faced its worst drought in 60 years. This was exacerbated by a similar drought in 2016, whose effects are still felt up to now.
During these severe droughts, livestock and crops die out and resources like water and camel milk become scarce.
“There is too much drought nowadays,” Salada says. “And before Mercy Corps came we didn’t have anything to do. If there is no milk, then there is nothing else for us to do. There are no other items we can trade in.”
“What else can we do? We have no other option”, Salada exclaimed, when remembering the drought period.
As a milk trader, Salada relies on a difficult and labor-intensive process. First, young men from Hadado would ride motorcycles to where the camels graze on the outskirts of the village. It is always a race against the clock: These “boda-boda” riders have to fill several plastic containers with camel milk and hurry it back to Hadado before it spoiled.
Women like Salada then boiled the milk to preserve it. But the boiling process took several hours, destroyed precious nutrients and flavor, and the women who did it had to find their own firewood.
The milk was then transported on a public bus to Wajir town, nearly 50 miles away. This trip could take as long as three hours, exposing the milk to dangerously high temperatures. As much as 25 percent of the milk is lost before reaching the market, and once it arrived in Wajir, the milk went through yet another boiling process, losing even more flavor and nutrients.
Mercy Corps, a Non-Governmental Organisation which has been working in Kenya since 2008 saw an opportunity to make the camel milk trade more efficient and strengthen the lives of those who depend on it.
According to Mercy Corps’ Wajir County Coordinator Abdifatah Dagane, this was in fulfillment of their commitment of supporting sustainable livelihoods and empowering small holder farmers with access to information, technology and markets to help them improve their productivity and food security.
In Hadado, a refrigerated Mercy Corps van now eliminates the need for boiling the milk and delivers it to Wajir faster, colder, and more nutritious. This means women like Salada can sell more milk at a higher quality, earning more money for their families.
“At the end of the chain, in Wajir, we pioneered a new idea: camel milk “ATMs.” Mercy Corps placed refrigerated camel milk dispensers in Wajir, where business groups—also primarily run by women—sell milk. When money is deposited, the ATMs dispense fresh camel milk. A liter of fresh camel milk costs about Sh 100”, explained the coordinator.
Now, says Mr. Dagane, milk is preserved longer, meaning there’s more to sell and more money to be made, translating to higher profits for the farmers and traders and therefore better livelihoods.
Halima Ismail, 48, is a milk ATM operator in Wajir. She was given an ATM, which she placed in a kiosk she built herself.
“I used to carry jerry cans, but thanks to God that is now over,” she says. “Then came donkey carts and tuk-tuks, and they it made possible for us to carry the milk within the town. Then I was given this ATM.”
The ATM has helped her business so much, Halima says, that now she wants to grow and use the money to pay off what she owes for the materials used to build her kiosk. After that, she wants to stock up with other products to sell.
Mohamed Daud, 40, co-owns the refrigerated van with Mercy Corps. The van uses solar-paneled coolers to keep the milk cold during transit, and now no milk gets spoiled because it is delivered on time. Whatever doesn’t make it into the van is kept in a cooler until enough milk is accumulated for another trip.
Daud says that he decided to get involved with the project because he wanted people in his community to drink fresh, nutritious milk that wasn’t stored in dangerous plastic containers. Eliminating the need for boiling will also benefit the environment, he says.
“I want to help transport fresh milk that isn’t boiled,” he says, and also to save the trees which were cut down to provide firewood for boiling the milk, he added.
With less camel milk being spoiled, those working along the camel milk value chain are able to increase their income and, like Halima, think about expanding their businesses.
Salada now uses coolers provided by Mercy Corps to sell other drinks and hopes to expand her growing milk business. She has already started to see tangible improvements to her life since the program began; with a more secure future; she now has hope for her children and grandchildren.
“Some of our children are finishing school,” she says. “Others are young and are also in school. Because of the hopes we have in our children, we can now be quite resilient to the weather changes.”
Daud wants to upgrade his deliveries someday by buying a refrigerated tanker. He believes his business won’t just improve his community; it can help improve his children’s futures.
“I want my children to be educated and get exposed to what is happening in the world,” he says. “To have a better life than the one we are leading now”, he reiterated.
By Donald Ngala