Global Agriculture

Camelids take centre stage: FAO launches International Year to recognize their global impact

05 December 2023, RomeThe Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) officially launched the International Year of Camelids 2024 at its Rome headquarters to recognize and celebrate the vital contributions these animals make to livelihoods, food security, and nutrition.

Camelids, including Bactrian camels, dromedary camels, and wild camels, as well as South American camelids such as domesticated llamas and alpacas, and wild vicuñas and guanacos, play a pivotal role in diverse ecosystems. They are particularly important in desert and mountain regions, where they form an integral part of the livelihoods and traditional practices of indigenous communities.

At the launch event, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu underscored the cultural and environmental importance of camelids.

“Even in the most extreme climatic conditions, they produce milk, meat, fibre and organic fertilizer, and provide transport, boosting food security, nutrition, and livelihoods while helping to conserve fragile ecosystems. Camelids also build resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis – particularly in mountains and drylands and can contribute to the transformation of agrifood systems,” he said.

“The International Year of Camelids is a great opportunity to highlight and value the economic, social and cultural importance of camelids around the globe – especially highly vulnerable communities.”

Camelids, vital for millions of households in over 90 countries, originated in America 45 million years ago. Serving as working animals, they support Indigenous Peoples and local communities in South America’s Andean highlands, as well as the deserts of Africa and Asia. Bactrian camels and dromedaries, for example, known as “ships of the desert,” are crucial for nomadic life in drylands.

The Year seeks to raise global awareness of the multifaceted role of camelids not only as sources of fiber, milk, and meat, but also as resilient and sustainable contributors to local economies. In challenging environments, camelids are indispensable for their ability to endure harsh conditions and provide crucial support to communities.

The International Year was proposed by the Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia and approved by the UN General Assembly in 2017. The Andean nation along with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, will play a key role in its implementation. 

David Choquehuanca Céspedes, Vice President of Bolivia also addressed today’s global ceremony, along with Mohammed Ahmed M. Alghamdi, the Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Gerardine Mukeshimana, Vice President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, delivered the keynote address.

Pamela Burger, Vice President, International Society of Camelid Research and Development provided a global overview on camelids, and the event also featured a panel discussion on how these animals nourish people and culture. Thanawat Tiensin, Director, Animal Production and Health Division at FAO moderated the event and closing remarks were delivered by Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director-General, FAO.

The goal of this Year is to promote a better understanding of the intrinsic value of camelids and their potential in helping to address the challenges posed by the climate crisis, particularly in regions where they are found. Greater support to the camelid sector can accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially the ones related to Zero Hunger, the eradication of extreme poverty, the empowerment of women, the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems and the conservation of fragile environments.

In addition to recognizing the economic, social and cultural importance of camelids, the Year will encourage governments and stakeholders to invest more in the camelid sector. This includes programmes and projects to bolster sustainable livelihoods everywhere.

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