The Pokot are pastoralists and depend on their animals, particularly their camels, for their livelihood.
Part of the long-term food programme at both Missions is the camel project. The Missions cross-breed the local Pokot camel with Pakistani bull camels to improve the milk yield. Camels are bought and sold at below market value or given away to the most needy families. They provide the school milk at both Missions and the camel programme has resulted in fewer families seeking food aid during the worst droughts and shortages.
The camel generally gets a bad press. They spit quite vile stuff, they bite with serious consequences and when irritated can kick in most directions. All this may be true but ignores the positive qualities.
They survive in hot, dry and arid conditions where all other domestic animals would struggle or even perish. And in those conditions when all others dry up they can continue to yield their most precious produce; highly nutritious low fat milk.
For this reason, for people like the Pokot, the camel (dromedary) is undoubtedly the most precious of all domestic animals.
When I first came to Pokot in 1980 we had an agricultural project whose aim was to introduce the people to tillage and food production. Despite the best efforts of highly qualified and dedicated agriculturalists it had very minimal long term effects.
The Pokot are primarily pastoralists. Their animals are their bank account. And so after about five years of intensive effort to introduce the people to tillage, we decided that the better approach to supplying food was to concentrate on livestock development. The Pokot took to it like a duck to water. And of all their animals, cattle, goats, sheep and donkeys, clearly their most prized is the camel.
The Pokot are a Nilotic people. They arrived in their present location relatively recently. Beech, a colonial officer writing in 1911 said he knew old men who were among the first arrivals. At best about 1850. Some clans of the Pokot brought their camels with them and to this day are regarded as the guardians of the herds.
“The Almighty in making animals created nothing preferable to the camel.” Mohammed – the prophet of God
For over 30 years I have been involved in many projects in Pokot – medical, educational, famine relief etc. All have a great value, but when you are talking camels to a Pokot, you are somehow at a deeper level – something much closer to the heart of the people.
Despite their bad press, camels certainly have value and a charm all their own.