JAIPUR: There is both good news and bad news on the camel front, and the good news first.
The ship of the desert, now also the source of elixir — the camel milk, yes, which can cure diabetes — is costing much more than it used to a few years back in the Thar desert, their last oasis in the country. Keeping camels was increasingly becoming a cumbersome task for the herders with dwindling pasture lands and their diminishing utility.
The spiralling fuel prices changed it all. “In the past three years the price a camel can fetch when sold went up at least by three times. The camels are replacing tractors in the farm-rich areas under the Indira Gandhi Canal system,” notes Ilse Kohler-Rollefson of the Pali-based LIFE (Local Livestock for Empowerment of Rural People) Network.
The price of the camel had crashed to a few thousands in the past few years and a stage came when there were no takers for it other than those who wanted to butcher the beast for its meat. “The price a camel fetched had come down to the level of that of a goat,” observes Hanuwant Singh of the Lokhit Pasu-Palak Sansthan (LPPS).
Gone are the days when the camel was reduced to a commodity the herders only wanted to dump in the dunes and sing a melancholic night raga. Now one of them can fetch as much as Rs.1.5 lakh to Rs.2 lakhs! If you say this is good news only for the camel breeders and that farmers have to cough up more for buying a camel then don’t forget that the farmers have found possessing them a better proposition than owning tractors.
Now for the bad news. The number of camels in Rajasthan has declined. In the 18th livestock census held in 2007, their number stood at 4.30 lakh and that is a sharp decline from 6.68 lakh in 1997 and 4.98 lakh in 2003. Altogether there has been a decline of 24 per cent in their numbers in the past five years.
A survey conducted by LPPS between August 2006 and April 2007 in the desert districts indicated 40.6 per cent decline in the camel population in Jaisalmer, a core camel area. The downfall was more elsewhere with Barmer district reporting 44.3 per cent decline and Shergarh tehsil (Jodhpur) and Kolayat tehsil (Bikaner) showing 46 per cent and 45 per cent respectively.
“This development is of a major concern, since the camel is an asset for making sustainable use of dry lands and has the potential of contributing to the economy of the Thar desert. With irrigation agriculture reaching its limits and the fight for water from Indira Gandhi Canal set to intensify, the camel offers a sustainable alternative,” says Ms. Ilse.