For the Karrayyu nomadic herders in Ethiopia’s Fantalle district, camels are highly prized. Children grow up drinking their milk, while the men follow them for months, sleeping next to them on makeshift beds. They know each camel by name, and milk them twice a day, collecting the milk in vessels made from woven grass. Milking the camels involves an unusual operation: a calf is left to suckle, before being separated from the mother. Two men then stand on either side of the camel, supporting a container in an almost acrobatic position, like stilt walkers. Afterwards the calf is allowed to suckle again.
The fresh milk is pure white, with thick foam. It tastes savory, aromatic and less fatty than cow’s milk. Traditionally it is not processed into cheese or yogurt, but drunk fresh. Together with barley, it is a staple food of the Karrayyu, and the only product that the community has started to sell in nearby towns. The flavor and curative properties of camel milk are appreciated by the Karrayyu, as well as by the Somali refugee community who are the main purchasers of Karrayyu camel milk. The Somalis resell the milk in small shops, where they also prepare a tasty tea made with milk, ginger, cinnamon and lots of sugar.
The Karrayyu community lives just a few hours from the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, but they belong to another world; a world based on a close connection to nature (camels, zebu, trees, Mount Fantalle…) and the rhythms of nomadic life, dictated by the seasons, the rains and the pace and the sounds of the herds.
Recently, however, the Karrayyu have seen their lands drastically reduced, following the creation of the Awash National Park and large sugar cane plantations. Climate change is also causing increasingly devastating droughts, threatening the survival of their herds. In recent years the Karrayyu have been forced to go through a difficult transition from nomadic pastoralism to agro-pastoralism, and are struggling to hold on to their culture and ancient traditions.
The Presidium – coordinated by Labate Fanfalle Organization NGO – has been estab- lished to safeguard Karrayyu culture through their emblematic product: camel milk. It supports the cooperative and work on training the herders to better manage animal health and diet, on improving the storage and transport of milk and on promoting camel milk. The milk is currently appreciated mostly by the herders and Somalis living in Ethio- pia, but is little known among the rest of the population. A training course was recently organized for five young herders, and sanitary checks on the milk have been carried out. Local radio has also made broadcasts promoting the Presidium’s activities.
Fantalle district, Shewa province, Oromia region