Current status and prospects of camel wool based livelihood in India
Influencer marketing has been started by the collaboration with influencers and bloggers who have a strong following on social media to promote camel wool products across the country and the globe.
The camel belongs to the family of Camelidae and this animal is an important component of the fragile desert ecosystem in our country. According to the last livestock census of 2019, the present population of camels in India is around 2.52 lakh and approximately 84 per cent of this population is present in the state of Rajasthan alone. Other states like Gujarat and Haryana also contribute a proportion of this animal population (DADH, 2022). Farmers of interior village areas rare camels to transport water, harvested crops, or goods for the market. Camel milk plays a vital role in the nutrition of camel farmers; camel milk is sold at various places in Rajasthan, including Udaipur, Chittorgarh, Alwar, and Pali district. But only in Jaisalmer is it marketed as camel milk. Some secondary beneficiaries also get befits of came, including the people who do not own camels, but whose livelihood depends on the processing of camel products like camel wool spinners and weavers, camel dung paper makers, camel leather processors, camel soap makers and many others. Camel hair fibres are part of speciality hair fibres. These are rare animal fibres that have unique characteristics such as lustre, softness, warmth and natural colour (Sharma and Pant, 2013).
Two sub-species of camel are one-humped camel and two-humped camel.
One humped camel, also known as dromedary or Arabian camel (Camelus dromedary) found throughout Africa, Arabia & near East, and in other hot regions of Asia. Whereas the two-humped camel called Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) is found mainly in Mongolia and Northern China, in areas bordering on the Gobi desert which is a dry and cold region, is used as a means of transport for people and goods, occasionally for a sport as well as a source of textile fibres. Out of these two varieties, the Bactrian camel produces comparatively superior quality fibres. That’s why most of the fabrics and garments are made of fibres from Bactrian camels especially.
India is at the eastern end of the distribution range of the one-humped camel. As they have adapted to dry environments, camels do not thrive further east than the Aravalli Hills. Thus, their distribution in India is restricted to Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana. Although occasionally camels may be encountered in other states, their breeding is limited to Rajasthan and Gujarat. According to the information of NRC on camel, in India, the Bactrian camels are not generally reared and are only found in the Leh region of Kashmir (especially in Nubra valley) and other humped types of camel breeds like Bikaner, Jaisalmeri, Kachchhi, Mewari, Jalori camel are also reared in our country. In the present scenario due to changing socio-economic conditions, the purpose of camel farming has little bit shifted to a new aspect of income generation, which is the production of wool and its processing into different value-added products.
Camel wool fibre
Camel wool is generally separated into three grades: High-grade fibres are usually derived from the undercoat, and only the best undercoat fibres can be considered to be truly high-grade. It is high-grade camel wool fibres that are most commonly used to make consumer textiles. Undercoat fibres that aren’t considered to be high-grade are usually referred to as medium-grade, and while these fibres may also be used to make apparel, the garments that are made with medium-grade fibres are rougher to the touch. Lastly, low-grade camel hair fibres are usually derived from the guard coat, and these rough and inflexible fibres are only suited for carpets and similarly rigid textiles. When viewed under a microscope, camel hair fibres look very similar to sheep wool fibres, but their scales are less pronounced. Like other types of wool fibres, camel hairs have hollow, air-filled matrices that make them excellent insulators.
Features of camel wool and fabrics
The camel hair fibre is obtained from the camel and belongs to the group called speciality hair fibres. The most satisfactory textile fibre is gathered from camels of the Bactrian type. Such camels have protective outer coats of coarse fibre that may grow as long as 15 inches (40 cm). The fine, shorter fibre of the insulating undercoat, 1.5–5 inches (4–13 cm) long, is the product generally called camel hair, or camel hair wool. The hair is not usually gathered by shearing or plucking; it is most often collected as the animal sheds its coat. Both the outer coat and the undercoat are shed at the same time, and combing, frequently by machine, separates the desirable down from the coarse outer hairs.
Indian camels produce an average of 0.6 kg of wool per year, according to scientific reports. Camel wool is traditionally harvested at the time of Holi, is separated by colour and fineness, and then handspun by camel breeders men with a drop spindle. Some of the spun yarn, they process by themselves to fashion ropes (especially the ropes needed for handling and tying down the camels), and tobacco pouches. But most of the wool is given to the Meghwal community on a contract basis for weaving rugs and blankets. The wool is also used for stringing charpoys and earlier was made into jackets, but this practice has declined.
No marketing of camel wool items has ever taken place, nor have there ever been any attempts to develop new products that would be of interest to urban consumers. It was assumed that the wool of the one-humped camel was too coarse and too short to produce appealing products. However, recent experiments with camel wool samples initiated by the project in Jaisalmer and conducted by MITAN in Kullu have had exciting results. Scientific analysis of the two samples indicates a great degree of variation in fibre thickness and a significant proportion of high-quality fine wool. One of the samples had an average thickness of 23 microns, but the majority of fibres were in the 17-20 micron range, which is equivalent to Cashmere quality. The length of the fibre was 5.9 cm in this sample. Sample 2 had an average fibre thickness of 26 microns and an average length of 5.4 cm. The conclusion from these tests is that camel wool needs to be separated by fibre quality, with some of the fine wool being suitable for soft and high-quality garments, and the coarser section providing opportunities for manufacturing bags and carpets. Judging from the marketing success of items crafted from coarse Deccani wool which has met large international demand, camel wool represents a significant rural employment opportunity, mainly from setting up processing units, but also a welcome additional source of income for the camel breeders. Estimating an average wool yield of 0.6 kg per camel, a theoretical amount of about 15000 kg of camel wool is available in the Jaisalmer district alone.
Fabric made of camel hair has excellent insulating properties and is warm and comfortable. Camel hair is mainly used for high-grade overcoat fabrics and is also made into knitting yarn, knitwear, blankets, and rugs. The coarse outer fibre is strong and is used in industrial fabrics such as machine beltings and press cloths employed in extracting oil from oilseeds. It is about the camel wool characters but from where this wool culture started.
China and Mongolia are the most significant suppliers of camel hair. India is not a prominent country to produce camel wool but with the effort of the government and some NGOs, Indian herders are moving towards the direction of wool production with time.
Production and processing of camel wool fibre
The camel wool fibres can be obtained by shearing, combing and collecting during the moulting season. The average yield of an adult female’s under hair is 3.5 kg and that of a male is 7 kg. The Kharai camels found in the salt marshes of the Kutch district of Gujarat can produce 300 gm to 5 kg of wool depending on their shearing once a year. When the camel moults it doesn’t lose its hairs all at once. First, the neck hair falls off, then the mane and finally the body hair. The camel moults in late spring or early summer when the fibres form matted tufts which hang down from the head, sides, neck and legs and this moulting process takes over 6-8 weeks. The fibres are harvested by pulling or by gathering the clumps shed onto the ground. Fibres are also obtained by shearing but the hair covering the humps is not shorn as this may make the animals more susceptible to disease. At the time of moulting the camels are ready to shear. Shearing is done before the natural shedding to prevent the losses. These following steps are generally followed by herders to form an economic type of wool,
- Shearing: camels generally wait till the owner shears the hairs and left hair on the area of the hump.
- Washing: washing of shorn wool is done to remove the impurities.
- Carding: this is the process where hair fibres are separated into strands.
- Spinning: after being card the next process is spinning to form the yarn.
- Finishing: prepared yarn washed once again before sending it to the textile industry.
The collected yarn is ready to sell for industry where it will be used for the production of different clothing. The insulation property of camel wool is very good the camel wool cloth quality and demand are very high.
The market for camel wool and fabrics
Fabric made from the hairs derived from Bactrian camels is one of the most expensive types of wool. It is seen as a luxury textile, and it is on par with other luxury wools like mohair and cashmere in terms of price. According to the report of Centexbel, the prices for camel fibre are 9-24 USD per kg. The rates generally depend on the quality of the wool. In India, these rates are generally Rs 1000/ kg.
With time the trend and future potential and good quality of camel wool started to be recognized by companies and they started manufacturing various textiles and selling them. Some renowned camel fibre yarn and fabric manufacturing companies, American Woolen Company (USA), DanRoy dva Shinto LOC (USA), Fukaki Woollen Textile Co (Japan), South Trading (Hong Kong), Todd & Duncan (UK), Cariaggi Lanificio S.P.A. (Italy) etc. In India, the camel wool market is not organised. Some Indian institutes like, ICAR-National Research Centre on Camel, are working in this field. The NGO, Sahjeevan changed the life of several Kharai camel herders in Gujarat as they became organized and started camel wool trading.
In the market there are various types of wool products available, therefore, for consumer safety, some agencies started certification of camel wool products like fabric certification by OEKO-TEX. The product brand Woolmark also offers a service called the Woolmark Licensing Program in India.
Camel wool products
Camel wool has been used since prehistoric times; it is even mentioned in the Bible as a material used to prepare tents, cloaks, carpets, etc. One of the most popular sports in the British Empire is polo, and camel hair jackets are irresistibly fashionable among polo players. These days, this fabric is primarily used to make garments like sweaters, coats, and underwear. Camel wool is a major export of Mongolia, and companies in the Asian country produce a wide variety of scarves and lightweight sweaters that are exported to China, Europe, and the USA.
Despite the lower production of camel wool garments, the demand for these materials is very high as compared to other wool sources. But high insulating properties and natural supply ensure the attraction of customers for camel wool.
Camel wool and the environment
Camel wool is known as the most environmentally sustainable type of animal fibre and entirely biodegradable substance. The Camel wool production is natural as the camel naturally sheds its hair every seasonally. No toxic chemicals are used during the harvesting or processing of camel wool and this wool and yarns are rarely dyed. Occasionally producers prefer to use natural dyes.
Opportunity and marketing strategies in present India
For successful marketing of camel wool and fabrics different initiatives have been made, few of them are targeted advertising, which has been started by using social media to reach the new consumer. The collaboration has been started with local designers and fashion houses to create unique and fashionable designs using camel wool so that this will create a buzz around the product and attract a wider customer base. The product demonstration is another important strategy by which the products are showcased in malls, trade shows and other public areas to educate the end users about the benefits of camel wool. Influencer marketing has been started by the collaboration with influencers and bloggers who have a strong following on social media to promote camel wool products across the country and the globe. These influencers showcase how to style camel wool clothing and accessories and can provide reviews of the products, which can help to generate interest and sales. Online selling sets up an e-commerce platform where people can purchase camel wool products online, which is another strategic step for marketing camel wool and wool products in the open market. The use of eco-friendly packaging materials to showcase the sustainable nature of camel wool has attracted consumers from corners of the globe. This helps to differentiate the product from other wool products in the market and will appeal to environmentally-conscious consumers.
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About the author:
Deepak K. Sharma, Sammi, Prateek Tewatia, Anil K. Kumawat, Ravindra Meena, Naresh K. Sharma, Hitesh Beniwal, S. Talukder,ICAR-Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar, Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, 243122