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From the Arusha Times, Tanzania
They are huge, bulky and strong! They are disease-tolerant and can survive drought by browsing on leaves on trees that other livestock cannot eat. These are camels!
Following severe long droughts that hit northeastern part of Tanzania in the last couple of years, a group of Maasai women of Ketumbeine village in Longido district, Arusha region set their eyes on Heifer international Tanzania camel project as the favourable solution to fight hunger and poverty.
Heifer International with its headquarters in the United States is a non-profit, non-governmental, humanitarian organization dedicated to ending world hunger and caring for the world by distributing cattle, sheep, rabbits, pigs, honeybees, camels, donkeys, horses, ducks, chickens, geese and tree seedlings to more than 125 countries around the globe including Tanzania.
Heifer International made its first entry into Tanzania in 1973 following an invitation by the Government of Tanzania through the Ministry of Livestock Development and Fisheries with the intention of assisting small-holder farmers who are the majority of the agricultural sector production force, using Heifer model and principles (Passing on the Gift) popularly known in Swahili language as "Kopa Ng'ombe Lipa Ng'ombe" focusing on improving the living standards of rural low income families.
The severe droughts that hit this particular part of Tanzania killed most of cattle and goats that belonged to Ketumbeine's nomadic Maasai livestock keepers.
In early 2008, about 30 Maasai women of Ketumbeine village decided to form a group called Nanyor Women Camel Group and attended a one week training on camel husbandry conducted by Heifer International Tanzania.
"During the long drought seasons, cows and goats perished due to starvation. We could rely on donkeys to transport water from long distances, but within a short time, the donkeys couldn't tolerate the drought and died too," recalls Paulo Ole Sadida, the Nanyor Women Camel Group advisor.
Upon completion of their training, Heifer Tanzania supported the Nanyor Women Camel Group with 31 camels in August 2008. The camels, worth over Tshs. 25 millions were imported from the neighbouring Kenya.
Characterized with huge figures and long muscular legs, the camels were strange to Ketumbeine community when Heifer Tanzania introduced the animals for the very first time. But today, that is no longer the case as the members of the Nanyor Women Camel Group are reaping the benefits of fast growing camel project with benefits from rich-milk, meat, manure to transportation of water and firewood and tourism.
"Everyone here in the village likes the rich nutrients from the camel milk, it's real delicious," admits Maria Paul, secretary of the group. The Nanyor Women Camel Group members are able to get enough milk for their families nutrition and sell surplus to improve their income.
A camel is capable of producing 8 to 10 liters of milk a day, hence becoming a favourable animal to have significantly improved the nutritional status of the Maasai, for whom milk has always been a staple food. A litre of camel milk is sold at Tshs. 1,200/= while camel meat is Tshs. 4,000/= per kilo.
To date, the Nanyor Women Camel Group posses a total of 34 camels (31 female and 3 bull camels). The camel project within the Ketumbeine community has enabled families to pay school fees for their children.
Despite being faced with few camel deaths caused by abortions, self-strangling with rope and dystocia (difficult calving), the Nanyor Women Camel Group members are positive that, the number of camels and milk production will increase.
"We thank Heifer for providing us with these strong animals. Camels are great alternative to cattle", says Natang'wamek Mikael, the chairperson of the group.
The group members are faced with several challenges one of them is the lack of regular trainings on camel management especially trainings on how to control new camel diseases. Camel milk awareness and marketing it to the neighbouring villages are yet other challenges facing the Nanyor Women Camel Group.
Since the introduction of camels within the Ketumbeine community, one can obviously see how camels have brought unity and gender balance in the male dominated Maasai community. As women take control of the camel supervision and do the milking, men on the other hand assist the women to graze the camels, lead the camels to fetch water and carry firewood from the forest.
Describing the Heifer camel project in his native Maasai language, the group advisor and the only male member in the group, Paulo Ole Sadida said, "Dupoto!". (Literally meaning 'Success'). Sadida explained that, "Camels are great success to us, it's something we've got that we didn't expect to get!".
During Heifer's 36 years of work in Tanzania, the organization has evolved into a multidisciplinary approach which not only focuses on in-kind dairy cattle loans, but promotes diverse species of livestock (dairy cattle and goats, dual purpose goats, pigs, poultry, donkeys, camels, bees and fish farming) and environmental conservation. Heifer International Tanzania also mainstreams global initiatives on gender issues and HIV and AIDS.
According to the Heifer International Tanzania Country Director, Mr. Peter Mwakabwale, over 45,000 low-income families have been assisted since the project started in the country.
Currently, Heifer International Tanzania has spread its wings in 21 regions in the Tanzania mainland and 5 regions of the Tanzania Island. From the country's 127 districts, the organization has influenced projects in over 96 districts and 1,103 villages to date. The program's operation area is divided into four zones that are North Eastern zone (covering Arusha, Manyara, Kilimanjaro, Tanga regions and Kondoa districts in Dodoma region), South Eastern zone (covering Dar es salaam, Coast region, Zanzibar, Morogoro, Dodoma, Mtwara, Lindi and Ruvuma regions), North Western zone (covering Mwanza, Kagera, Mara, Tabora and Kigoma regions) and South Western zone (covering Mbeya, Iringa and Rukwa regions).
According to the Heifer International's Africa Area Program recent facts, in the last 30 years, Heifer has partnered with over 1.4 million families in 15 different countries in Africa to end hunger and poverty in their lives. Families in these communities, who once lived in poverty, now enjoy sustainable livelihoods. Across all Africa, over 300,000 families will benefit from Heifer-supported projects from 2009-12.
"The impact of our program interventions can vividly seen as targeted to low income families are now able to pay fees for their children in secondary schools, college and universities without depending on government loans," admits the Country Director, adding that the program has also enhanced solidarity among farmers through farmers' networks and associations.
Richard Bugaisa, communications coordinator, Heifer International Tanzania