x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Kazakhstan camels will quadruple milk supply

A hundred new milking camels from Kazakhstan will help ramp up the UAE's production of camel milk.

DUBAI // If and when the UAE gets permission to export its camel milk to Europe, its farms will need to dramatically ramp up production - and to do that, plans are afoot to buy 100 camels from Kazakhstan.

They will be put into a breeding programme that aims to quadruple the milking potential of the UAE's camel stock.

"We don't have enough milk to export," said Dr Ully Wernery, the director of Dubai's Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, in charge of the import. "We cannot even cover demand in the UAE."

The lab's 3,000 camels produce 5,000 litres of milk a day - not nearly enough, according to Dr Wernery. "The demand in Europe is probably 10 times more," he said.

Last year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated the world market for camel milk at US$10 billion (Dh36.7bn), with hundreds of millions of potential customers.

Camel milk has less than half the fat and 40 per cent of the cholesterol of cows' - as well as three times the vitamin C. It can be digested by people who are lactose intolerant and can ease food allergies.

But there is a clear shortage - largely because UAE camels are bred for racing. "They're not for milking so don't produce a lot."

The lab's camels produce at most 5 litres of milk a day between them, a quarter of a cow's regular production. "We bought some from Sudan and Saudi Arabia that produce at least 10 litres a day," said Dr Wernery. "It's harder for camels because nobody really bred them for milk so we're starting from scratch like bovines 50 years ago."

He will go to Kazakhstan this spring because it "has very good milking camels and we will buy good ones to have a good parent stock to begin the breeding. With 300 to 400 good mothers, we can build on that".

He hopes each camel from the new breeding generation will be able to produce 20 litres a day.

"Nobody in the world has ever bred a proper milking camel and this is one of our tasks, to keep the best milkers and breed with them to increase the amount of milk," said Dr Wernery.

But it will take time. A camel's pregnancy lasts 13 months and they cannot be milked until they are five years old. Cows can be milked after just two years. "We started this five years ago so hopefully, this year will be our first 20-litre-milking," said Dr Wernery.

All goes to plan, the herd should be able to meet domestic demand. Still, many more - about 100,000, more than 30 times the current number - will be needed if a European export permit is granted.

"This is a huge number of camels," said Dr Wernery. "Middle Eastern countries with camels should start building new farms."

cmalek@thenational.ae