The camels are Rajasthan’s signatory animals, its former source of identity and pride, as well as the foundation for the globally unique camel culture of the Raika who once took care of the breeding herds owned by the Maharajas. In the last decades, a decline in demand for draught camels and a number of other factors have severely reduced the camel population from more than 10 lakhs to just over 3 lakh presently. In an effort to stop this trend, the cabinet of Rajasthan in 2014 declared the camel as state animal and developed a draft legislation to protect it. However German scientist & author of the book ‘Camel Karma- Twenty Years among India’s Camel Nomads,’ Ilse Koehler-Rollefson believes that the legislation will do more harm than good. ‘We never imagined the kind of counterproductive legislation that has been devised to implement this status. We had envisioned positive incentives, such as ear-marking of camel grazing areas, better access to camel health care, investment in building up camel dairying infrastructure and other camel value addition’, says Ilse.
But the draft legislation consists only of prohibitions –like taking camel out of Rajasthan, castrating male camels, which is to be punished with jail. ‘Unfortunately, these well-meant regulations are only increasing camel suffering because no thought has gone into what is to be done with grown up male camels for whom there is no work and who become very difficult and dangerous to handle during the rutting period?’ explains Ilse.
These restrictions prevent people from earning a livelihood from camels and lead them to neglect and dispose of their herds. Unless there is an economic rationale for breeding and keeping camels, they will turn into zoo animals. This would mean a great loss, as the camel has potential to provide a range of eco-friendly ‘desert products’ that could on one hand generate income for rural people and on the other hand satisfy urban consumers’ needs.
Potential for Channelling CSR Spend to Save the Camels
In an effort to develop and market innovative products from living camels that generate income for camel breeders and for traditional artisans, Ilse recently set up Camel Charisma in collaboration with Rajasthani native Hanwant Singh Rathore. This social enterprise based in Sadri (near Ranakpur in Pali district of Rajasthan) shares a campus with Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan, (LPPS), an NGO that supports camel breeders and other nomads with access to veterinary medicines and advocacy for grazing rights.
The following value chains have been experimented with and show promise:
- Milk is processed into ice cream and cheese or pasteurized and sold to Diabetes and other patients
- Camel milk is made into soap
- Camel Hair is cleaned, sorted, hand spun by widows in Jaisalmer district, then woven into stoles (in Kullu) or into dhurries in Jalore district of Rajasthan
- Camel poo is hand processed into paper – saving trees!
However, this is a very small beginning that provides not much more than “proof of concept”. Further expertise, investment in infrastructure and training/ human capacity building, as well as targeted research are required bring any of the value chains up to scale and make a real impact on the camel population and on rural livelihoods.
Says Ilse ‘There is also a stiff resistance from the Rajasthan Dairy Cooperative to camel milk marketing. The National Research Centre on Camel is enthusiastic and willing, but their mandate is restricted to research and does not entail any practical interventions. This is where I believe the Corporates can play a major role by planning and implementing a sustainable CSR initiative that will save the camels and restore the dignity and livelihood of the camel rearing Rebari & Raika communities in Rajasthan.’