In many arid areas, camels play a central role as milk suppliers. The comparative advantage of the camel as a dairy animal over the other species in the same environment is difficult to quantify; however, it is widely recognised that in absolute terms, the camel produces more milk and for a longer period of time than any other milk animal held under the same conditions.
In East Africa, where 60 % of the world camel population are held, the consumption of camel milk is not limited to only the pastoral nomads, but camel milk is also commercialised and sold in the urban areas (Schwartz and Dioli, 1992).
Studies on the camel milk market in Somalia (Hash) 1988) showed that camel milk outweighed other milk types in rural pastoral areas during the dry season. Similar observations were made by the Land Resources Development Center (LRDC) (1986). Hashi and Cianci (1985) reported on two types of camel-oriented dairy systems in Somalia: One case consisted of wide ranging nomadic herders, who from time to time during their seasonal migratory movement, pass through the "milk catchment areas" surrounding settlements where they sell their milk surplus. The other case was more intensive camel dairying, based on a range of reserves established around towns. The reserves serve as camel catchment areas. A herdsman would keep three to four milk camels in such a reserve and pay a small fee. He could then regularly market the milk through urban milk traders who collect milk from areas as far as 90 km from the town.
These traditional dairy systems can be the basis for a dairy processing camel milk, particularly in countries where large camel populations are found. Certainly, the wide dispersal of pastoralists in the arid zone would make a formal milk collection, processing and marketing system difficult to establish and to maintain. However, before the difficulties can be identified and overcome, the knowledge of camel milk itself has to be broadened. In the following sections, published data on yield, composition, chemical characteristics and technological properties of camel milk are summarised and some of the gaps and contradictions in the existing state of knowledge are emphasized.