The Pastoral Way
The Unt Maldharis, or camel herders, of Kachchh tend a total population of over 10,000 camels. For generations their community has worked with camels to sell milk and as transport. Pastoralism accounts for a large percentage of livelihoods in Kachchh. For many years, Maldharis were making camel wool for their own means, as coverings for their camels or for bags to carry their wares.
Camel pastoralists in Kachchh currently face a range of threats. Declining grazing resources has led to a decrease in herd populations, and camels no longer sell as well as they once did. There is an urgent need to enhance these livelihoods and to conserve the local camel populations. Khamir’s Camel Wool Project is one part of a multi-pronged response to these challenges.
Though primarily used for milk and transportation, camels produce high quality wool that is very warm, water-resistant and highly durable. It can be used to make textiles, carpets and ropes. Moreoever, there is a great demand for its natural colors. This wool has traditionally seen minimal use by pastoralists, and is a promising avenue by which they may earn additional income.
A Jat Family with their camels | A Rabari woman spinning camel wool yarn
Camels are sheared once a year, between March and April, just prior to the onset of summer. Camel wool is coarse and has short fibers, which poses challenges to both spinning and the production of soft, clothing appropriate textiles. Khamir has explored a number of pre-treatment options, especially de-hairing, which removes coarse fibers leaving only very soft, fine wool which will be used to produce stoles, bags and other products. The Camel Wool Project will provide additional income to camel breeders, spinners, and weavers, facilitating a value chain managed at the local level. It will also re-establish the utility of the camel—a species that is essential in arid regions like Kachchh.