DUBAI // The UAE might not seem short on camels, but camel milk farmers are planning to import them from central Asia regardless.
They are doing so because they have an eye on a potential explosion of demand if Europe decides to give the go-ahead to camel milk imports from the UAE.
Last July, the European Union approved the UAE's plans to demonstrate the safety and quality of the milk. Later this year, a team of inspectors will arrive to verify that those plans are being put into practice.
If their report is positive, the European Commission and the European Parliament will have to approve the UAE as a country that can sell camel milk to Europe.
But the country's two producers, Al Ain Dairy and Emirates Industry - which markets its camel milk products under the Camelicious brand - already struggle to keep up with domestic demand.
Emirates Industry produces 5,000 litres of camel's milk a day. Struggling to meet domestic demand, it would have to drastically boost production to supply Europe in any meaningful quantities.
The problem, producers say, is that while the camels are fast on their feet, they do not produce nearly as much milk as cattle.
While cows can produce up to 40 litres of milk a day, an Arabian camel makes eight litres.
They are unlikely to match the cows' productivity as a result of lacking udder cisterns, meaning they only produce milk when their teats are being suckled, but there is plenty of room for the camels to improve. Other breeds yield up to twice as much, experts say.
Part of the answer is selective breeding, which over the decades has greatly helped increase the yield of cattle and many other animals and crops.
To that end, Ulrich Wernery, the scientific director of the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, plans to visit Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Kenya, where he will buy stock to bring back.
He is considering, too, buying semen from the US. Like the dairy industry, camel milk producers rely on artificial insemination.
Turkmenistan adopted dromedary camels during the Arab conquest in the eighth century, and since bred both native Bactrian - two-humped - camels and the Arabian dromedary - one hump - for their milk and meat.
According to Mr Wernery, that long history of breeding has allowed Turkmenistan's camels to yield nearly 50 per cent more milk than the UAE's. "It was the same process for people starting dairy farms 50 years ago," he says.
They are much cheaper, too. While a racing camel costs around Dh20,000, Turkmeni camels bred to produce milk cost US$300 (Dh1,100).
And the potential could be huge. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates the world market for camel milk at US$10 billion (Dh36.7bn), with hundreds of millions of potential customers.
Tests have shown the milk has less than half the fat and 40 per cent of the cholesterol of cows' milk - as well as three times the vitamin C. It can be digested by people who are intolerant to lactose, and can even ease food allergies. All this, Emirates Industry believes, gives it the scope to be marketed as a health food.
Camelicious, however, sees opportunities for ice cream, cheeses and an expansion of camel chocolate production.
For now, though, not all of the dairy producers are enthusiastic. Al Rawabi farm in Dubai has 10,000 cattle but no camels.
It considered it, says general manager Ahmed Rahem al Mansouri, but decided the market was too small.