Welcome to NRI

Cooperative member demonstrating how to use an alcohol gun to test milk quality.
Cooperative member demonstrating how to use an alcohol gun to test milk quality.

To achieve gender transformative change, we need to carefully examine the underlying causes of gender inequality. This means challenging existing socio-economic structures and cultural institutions that often reinforce gender inequality. Urgent and seasonal questions, such as ‘how can my family survive in the face of drought and associated food insecurity until the next rainy season?’ leave little space to seek broader and more elusive transformative change along a development pathway. Within this article, I reflect on the potential leverages and bottlenecks for gender transformative change using the case of a women-led camel milk trading co-operative in Kenya.

Hailed as a climate-resilient activity, camel milk trading has grown significantly over the past 25 years. It is nicknamed ‘liquid gold’ due to its lucrative price compared to cow’s milk. Anolei Women’s Camel Dairy Marketing Cooperative in Isiolo County, northern Kenya, started as a ‘self-help’ women’s group with the aim of improving pastoralist livelihoods in dryland regions. It is now one of the major stakeholders in the growing camel milk market in the country. The women’s role as camel milk traders in Kenya has received attention and funding support from multiple development aid projects. With its women-only members, this community cooperative aims to enhance sustainable livelihoods via a nutritious, climate-resilient natural resource that generates income across the value chain. It addresses development goals across multiple fronts, underscoring the significant role of the Anolei Cooperative in the camel milk market and the broader community.

During the rainy season, Anolei Cooperative processes up to 7,000 litres of fresh camel milk daily and transports it to the capital, Nairobi’s Eastleigh district. Since the emergence of Sharia-compliant banks in the region, female camel milk traders have had better access to credit and savings and better control of monetary transactions across the camel milk value chain. This has led to a significant growth in membership and ambition to scale up operations.

In 2022 and 2023, NRI collaborated with Anolei Cooperative, Egerton University, and Innovate UK through the African Agriculture Knowledge Transfer Partnership (AAKTP) Programme to provide training for both Anolei and their local partner, Tawakal Cooperative to reduce post-harvest losses and advance their general management goals. The knowledge exchange partnership focused on camel milk product development, such as flavoured yoghurt, and on hygiene and quality management of camel products to expand to nearby camel milk markets.

While Anolei Cooperative’s business operation has made significant strides and notably attracted further funding of 10 million Kenyan Shillings to support the construction of the Anolei milk processing plant on purchased land, there are still persistent bottlenecks for gender transformative change, particularly in the decision-making, participation, and uptake of training and technology. 

I spoke with a young woman at the Tawakal Cooperative who had, independent from the AAKTP project, attended multiple formal trainings on milk hygiene and production at the Kenya Dairy Training Institute in Naivasha town, and demonstrated know-how of food safety standards equipment such as an alcohol gun, lactometers, California Mastitis Tests.   However, women were not invited to attend the AAKTP online meetings with NRI during the two-year project. Constraints such as COVID-19, online technology, limited invitations, distance from homesteads, and time burdens tend to discourage women’s participation in meetings. While language and literacy were often cited as a barrier, discussions with women members of the two cooperatives in Isiolo have led to doubts. The women I met were well-versed in English. The lack of invitation at the project level and coordination with women representatives' time still remain a barrier for gender-sensitive participation with experts external to the community.

I had the opportunity to witness a multi-stakeholder knowledge transfer partnership facilitated by NRI and saw clear signs of the venture’s growth in a time of climate uncertainty. One of the senior members of the women's cooperative explained that despite the current drought and conflicts, the camel milk business has provided long-term and stable income to support her family. She has put her two children through four years of university education, with one daughter soon to complete a law degree at the University of Nairobi. Other members have used the income and networks generated via camel milk trading to start an arid poultry farmers’ group, rear chicks, sell eggs and meat to local farmers, and incorporate regular table banking as a grass-root business model. In the case of Anolei Cooperative, members have shown agency in driving the trading venture in the region, with robust livelihood resilience and positive community impacts. I was left wondering how we can engage such economic empowerment as leverage for more elusive gender-transformative outcomes.

Efforts to champion women’s external-facing role in the camel milk operation’s leadership, governance, and expansion are essential. In the case of Anolei Cooperative, they have been placed secondary to pastoral livelihoods and community economic improvements.

More detail of this project can be found in the Rural 21 journal article entitled ‘Women’s cooperative in the camel milk business shows resilience during drought.

References

Po, J. Parma, A., Matofari, J. (2023). Women’s cooperative in the camel milk business shows resilience during drought. Rural 21, The International Journal for Rural Development

Oselu, S., Ebere, R., Arimi, J.M. (2022). Camels, Camel Milk, and Camel Milk Product Situation in Kenya in Relation to the World. Int J Food Sci: 1237423.

 

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Natural Resources Institute (NRI) or the University of Greenwich.


This opinion piece is part of the 2024 Gender and Social Difference Opinion Series developed in collaboration with NRI's Gender and Social Difference Research Group. We encourage you to explore the other contributions to this series.