Camels are well known for their ability to live for an extended time without water. They may be able to help their human owners thrive during dry spells as well.
The world’s largest population of camels is found in Somalia. In this East African country, some 60 percent of people are pastoralists, herding camels and other livestock around the arid landscape. It’s not an easy life, and as climate change makes the twice-yearly dry seasons more extreme, it’s getting even harder. Hundreds of thousands of Somali pastoralists have been displaced during recent droughts, traveling in search of increasingly scarce water for their families and their livestock.
For the past several years, RTI has implemented the USAID/Somalia Growth, Enterprise, Employment, and Livelihoods Program. Known by its acronym “GEEL”—which means “camel” in Somali—this project is helping Somalia’s economy heal from the long-term scars of war and recurrent crises. GEEL works in several economic sectors—agribusiness, fisheries, and more—and emphasizes international trade competitiveness, youth employment, and women’s empowerment.
Through GEEL’s work in the livestock and dairy sectors, a potential new opportunity for Somali pastoralists emerged when a drought occurred in 2016-2017. Pastoralists have camels, which are put at risk of malnutrition and even death during times of severe drought. At the same time, Somalia’s dairies have a consistent demand for camel milk, whether a drought is occurring or not. GEEL encouraged pastoralists to temporarily lease their camels to dairy companies when the drought became serious. The dairies provided food and veterinary care for the camels, increased their supply of camel milk for local consumers, and then paid the pastoralists a share of the profits from the sale of their camels’ milk. The pastoralists therefore received both short- and long-term benefits from the arrangement through an immediate income opportunity, while their most prized asset – the camels – were kept alive and healthy for the future. This initial camel-leasing pilot included 42 dairy companies, 38 of which reported that they continued to lease camels during the dry seasons after the leases ended.
Could camel leasing become a new source of resilience for both pastoralists and dairies in Somalia? The experience of the first participants suggests that it’s worth finding out. Starting in June 2019, we embarked on a USAID-funded, mixed-methods study of camel leasing and its potential to mitigate droughts’ impacts on Somali pastoralist households as well as the private sector dairy companies. Working with local partners, we will collect data from households and dairies in up to two of Somalia’s livelihood zones, measuring their resilience during dry seasons.
This research builds on our years of experience with GEEL, but goes beyond the project’s emphasis on economic development. It also stands out from most research on resilience because it connects a private sector-led model with household-level wellbeing. Camel leasing could help demonstrate to businesses that building resilience is profitable as well as socially responsible.
With a better understanding of camel leasing, we hope to gain insights that will apply to other efforts to build resilience in Somalia and beyond. If successful, camel-leasing programs could be adapted, scaled up, or replicated in other countries and industries. Droughts and other climate-related shocks will only grow more frequent and costly to recover from. We believe building resilience capacities is part of the solution, and that concepts like camel leasing represent a new way for businesses and households to help strengthen one another in the face of these threats.