Pakistan, with the sixth largest population of camels in the world, has the potential to become a globally significant exporter of camel meat and camel milk, according to livestock sector ‘experts’.
These surprising views were expressed at a one-day seminar held at the University of Agriculture Faisalabad (UAF), which was organised in conjunction with the Camel Association of Pakistan. The ‘experts’ claimed to have hit upon an industry which might benefit some of the most impoverished families in Pakistan, particularly Balochistan, but failed to back up their argument with credible statistics.
For instance, Dr Muhammad Afzal Hussain, assistant professor of animal nutrition and feed technology at the UAF, claimed that the global trade in camel meat is worth $10 billion and the trade in camel milk is worth another $7 billion. In reality, the global trade in these two commodities is so small that they are listed as negligible in the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) database of global trade statistics.
The experts gathered at the seminar seemed far more interested in providing what seemed to be vaguely relevant anecdotes based on cultural stereotypes rather than hard, data-backed evidence. Iqrar Ahmed Khan, the vice chancellor of the university, said: “I used to live in the Middle East for over a decade. Any proposal relating to dates or camels is never declined because these two commodities have been part of Arab daily life for hundreds of years.”
Former Punjab livestock minister Mumtaz Minhas said: “The meat, as well as the milk, of white camels is revered in the Arab world and is sold at high prices. We have the potential to export [these commodities] to these countries and earn hefty foreign exchange.”
Yet more disappointing than what the seminar’s participants said was what they did not say. None of the participants pointed out the fact that Pakistan has the sixth largest population of camels in the world, or that it has been growing at about 2.6% per year for the last decade. But perhaps critically, nobody seemed willing to point out that there is simply no major market for camel meat anywhere in the world, at least not enough of one to justify a government-sponsored export strategy.
According to the WTO, the global export market for meat is worth about $112 billion. About one-third of that is beef, with global trade valued at $36.6 billion in 2011. The next biggest component is pork ($30 billion), followed by chicken ($25.4 billion). Camel meat appears nowhere in this picture, since it is rarely consumed and only consumed in countries that actually have their own camel populations, restricting the amount that is traded across borders.
The global trade in dairy products is smaller, but still worth a substantial $70 billion in 2011. Pakistan’s share in that trade was nonexistent.
By contrast, Pakistan is actually rapidly increasing its exports of beef and mutton, which hit almost $169 million last year and have been growing at over 50% per year for the past eight years. Minhas alluded to this opportunity only briefly by pointing out that retail prices of beef in Tehran are close to Rs1,200 per kilogramme (kg), compared to the Pakistani average of around Rs262 per kg.
Sources in Pakistan’s meat export business say they rarely if ever see any interest for camel meat exports and the order sizes are usually miniscule, making the business commercially unfeasible.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 23rd, 2012.
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