World’s Biggest Camel Producer Targets Middle East, Asia Exports

  • War-torn Somalia is home to an estimated 7.2 million camels
  • Livestock shipments brought $384 million revenue in 2015

Somalia, home to a third of the world’s camels, is targeting new export markets as it looks to boost foreign-exchange earnings from its livestock trade.

The Horn of Africa nation has expanded its port facilities for shipping live camels, cattle and goats, begun supplying Egypt and will soon start exports to Malaysia in a bid to boost revenue that reached $384 million in 2015, the most in two decades. Somalia has already sold 5.5 million animals in 2016, according to Mohamed Omar, director-general of the Ministry of Livestock.

“Hopes are high” that demand from the new countries and traditional buyers Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Kuwait will raise that figure further in the next 12 months, Omar said in an interview in the capital, Mogadishu. Traditional “organic” methods used by Somali herders ensure their animals’ meat has “a unique taste,” which the ministry is trying to market to more countries, according to Omar.

Somalia, which is emerging from more than two decades of civil war and scheduled to choose a president this month, is trying to use recent improvements in security to attract investors and rebuild the economy. More than half the country’s approximately 10.5 million population rely on livestock for their food and income, according to the Somali Chamber of Commerce.

Biggest Herd

The country has an estimated 7.2 million camels, almost 50 percent more than the world’s second-biggest herd in Sudan, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. Somalia is also “by far” the largest producer of camel milk globally, the FAO said on its website.

Omar said his ministry was still calculating the value of livestock sold this year. He described a “dramatic increase in income,” without giving details. The animals are mainly shipped from Mogadishu’s port, although harbors in the cities of Bosaso and Berbera are also used, according to Omar.

The livestock trade makes up 40 percent of Somalia’s GDP, a proportion that may rise to 50 percent in the coming year, according to the commerce chamber. It’s also the largest contributor of foreign-exchange earnings after remittances from the Somali diaspora, Ahmed Nur Hassan, a senior adviser at the central bank, said in an interview.

The FAO -- with financial support from the European Union and the U.K. -- has worked with Somalia’s government over the past five years to “invest heavily” in livestock infrastructure, vaccination programs and producing fodder, according to the FAO’s website.

“We’ve organized veterinary professionals to provide vaccination to the animals and that has kept our livestock healthy,” Omar said, describing it as one of the reasons for the increased sales.

Australia, the world’s largest livestock exporter, has faced criticism of its trade because of concern over the treatment of shipped animals. A 2011 government-commissioned independent review found there were “widely divergent views” in Australia over the industry and concluded it would be sustainable only if it could show “animal welfare outcomes acceptable to the Australian community.”

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