Shifting Sands: The Commercialization of Camels in Mid-altitude Ethiopia and Beyond

Although pastoralists in Ethiopia are often characterized as unresponsive to market opportunities, the bulk of Ethiopia’s growing formal and informal livestock and meat exports are supplied from pastoralist areas of the country. This report describes a relatively new trend in pastoralist livestock marketing, being a dynamic response to increasing demand for camels in mid-altitude areas of Ethiopia, and in neighboring Sudan. In response, a camel trade network has evolved that covers about 2000km, involves more than six ethnic groups, and is served by 24 markets. Within Ethiopia, the rising demand for camels by mid-altitude farmers is associated with the drought-tolerant nature of camels and their multiple uses as pack animals, and reflects an important cultural shift among Orthodox Christians. Emerging in the absence of aid or government programs, the camel trade shows how economic synergies between pastoralist and non-pastoralist areas can develop, and provides further evidence of the market responsiveness of pastoralists, even when faced by drought and other constraints.