Towards a new vision
Camel theft, trafficking and cruel ways of transportation must be stopped. But even if this could be achieved overnight, the decline in numbers would still continue.
The only way to save the camel for Rajasthan will be to take a bold and innovative approach.
The camel keeping system of Rajasthan is unique in the world; the value it can have in the modern age is only beginning to be understood.
The system of the past is no longer viable; but if the best of the old can be combined with the new, bringing together tradition and innovation, there is plenty of potential to restore viability.
By bringing together the best minds, and seeing the full range of opportunities as well as the problems, Rajasthan could take a transformative approach. Rather than losing the camels of Rajasthan, it could recreate one of the best community-based camel keeping systems in the world for the modern age.
If the brightest minds from camel research, business, technology, ecology, veterinary medicine, education, tourism, food production, the camel keeping communities and other disciplines get together and apply their hearts and brains, there can be new solutions.
Saving the camel is a huge challenge, but one that will bring big rewards for future generations as well as the environment of Rajasthan.
Camel experts, conservationists and community leaders support the call for a new vision to save the camels of Rajasthan.
Some of the ideas that could provide a way forward:
Ecology and resources
Stall feeding on imported fodder is not a sustainable system for the future in Rajasthan. These resources are simply not going to be available. The number of camels must be related to resources that are sustainable. Special camel grazing areas could be designated and protected at locations identified by their herders. Favourite forage trees such as khejri, babul, kumtia, and neem could be replanted, bringing other benefits for the environment. Monsoon grazing could be provided by integrating camels into forest and protected area management in specific areas such as the planned Kumbhalgarh National Park. Modern technology could be used to revive the old system of organic fertilisation of fallow fields.
A small number of healthy, breeding herds could be rapidly reestablished by using common sense solutions that can only benefit the environment.
Income from dairy
Camel dairy is taking off and could be a huge opportunity. It succeeds where it is marketed as a premium product for health benefits. It is less successful where producers are underpaid or it is perceived only as another kind of milk. It is more expensive to produce and market. We could encourage scientists and engineers to develop technologies for processing small amounts of camel milk and tests for distinguishing it from the milk of other animals.
Paying attention to designing robust collection and quality assurance systems and developing top-quality products could bring dividends.
Camel enterprise clusters
In designated camel keeping areas, we could develop hubs with dairy collection, veterinary care and support, facilities and training for associated enterprise clusters. Artisan cheese-making, development of local production of camel wool products with input from designers, soap and paper products, camel milk sweetmaking and camel cafés could be established as rural entrepreneur businesses. Camels and related products are ideally suited to this approach. LPPS is already working towards this at its Camel Conservation Centre at Sadri.
Enterprise clusters have found success elsewhere in the world.
Innovation in heritage tourism
Rajasthan's unique heritage camel culture is also a unique opportunity for tourism. As much as the camels themselves, Rajasthan's camel herders and shepherds have become one of the icons of the state, appearing on websites and in magazines worldwide. The idea of seeing large numbers of camels and an authentic culture draws visitors to Pushkar Fair. Authentic cultures and experiences are one of the top global tourism trends. To lose the state's camel culture would be to lose a valuable asset.
Developing innovative camel tourism products offers significant income potential.
If there is a move to large scale farming, animal numbers and biodiversity reduce and animals are not as happy. Most benefit goes to wealthy investors and in times of scarcity vital resources are less available to the community.
Dairy farms with 3,000 camels will not save the camel for rural people or maximise benefits for local economies. Only community-based solutions can do that.
Pride of the state
Revaluing the camel is a key priority. Camels need an initiative to remind urban India of their value. A green technology initiative could promote the use of camels in transport and agriculture. A key step would be to raise the status of camel breeding through certified Camel Management and Camel Herding courses, so that young people can be proud to be in the business again.
The people of Rajasthan need to be proud of their camels again.