In today's Finshots we talk about why the camel population is on the decline.
Yes, camel population :)
India’s camel population is dwindling. Take for instance this excerpt from an article in National Geographic —
India’s total camel population — all of them descendants of wild dromedary, or Arabian, camels — decreased by 37 percent between 2012 and 2019, according to the latest count, the 20th Livestock Census, published in 2019. Current estimates suggest that there are fewer than 200,000 camels left among the nine breeds, and 80 percent of these animals live in Rajasthan
But why are we talking about camel conservation when this is a newsletter admittedly focused on all things finance?
Well, there’s a reason.
For starters, camels are nice animals. It would be a shame to see their numbers dwindle. More importantly, most camels surviving today are domesticated. And domestication follows the law of demand and supply.
Let us explain.
When farmers decide to rear camels, they’re doing so under the assumption that they’d be able to make money off of them. And there was a time when this assumption would have held true. Camels were considered indispensable in many parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan. They were used in the transportation department. They were used by border patrol and they even came in handy whilst farming. But today, you have special equipment and vehicles that outperform camels more often than not. In fact, they have been rendered redundant for the most part and camel herders no longer make a lot of money anymore.
Some people will argue that they are still a tourist attraction. And while that may be true, income from this domain is also on the downside.
Finally, there’s camel milk — a real money-making opportunity that many believe could turn the fortunes of both farmers and camels alike. Camel milk has been touted as the next superfood and there’s new demand for this exotic product from many parts of the country. The only problem — the value chain is a bit broken. Camels are reared in parts of the country that are pretty isolated from urban centres. Meaning refrigerating and transporting the milk to processing facilities can be a bit of a challenge. However, despite the problems, the opportunities abundant in the dairy industry are there for all to see and there are those who believe that the camel population may now be on the rise largely thanks to this newfound source of revenue.
Having said that, however, these animals are still not out of the woods yet.
Take for instance the case of Kharai camels. Local estimates suggest that there were about 10,000 camels living in Gujarat only a few years ago. Now there are less than 4,500. What explains the precipitous fall you ask.
As we already noted, farmers have a tough time monetizing camel livestock. So when it becomes expensive to tend to these animals, they abandon domestication altogether. After all, raising camels is no easy affair. You have to spend money on medicines, grooming, and food. And you can’t just buy food from a pet store. You have to let the Kharai graze in the mangroves.
But the mangroves are currently under threat from a host of salt manufacturing companies. Granted they create new jobs and help the local economy, but they also do some damage when their operations affect the growth of saline-rich mangrove trees. And with these plants hard to come by, farmers have to take their camels to neighbouring villages in a bid to feed them — all of which costs money.
And at some point in time, they’ll throw in the towel. They’ll stop with the domestication enterprise altogether and let things slide.
Now bear in mind, the Rajasthan government explicitly bans the slaughter of camels for meat. But that doesn’t prevent farmers from abandoning them altogether. When they have no recourse, they will ditch these animals even if it hurts them to do so. Because when they can’t make a decent living, the camels turn into a liability, oftentimes, pushing farmers into the throes of poverty.
So really, this is an act of last resort.
And if the government is serious about halting a further decline in camel population, then they have to create new money-making opportunities for farmers. Invest in the camel-milk value chain, market tourist destinations, and create new laws to prevent the further erosion of grazing areas. It's perhaps the only way to make a dent in this department.