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The untapped treasure that is donkey farming

Some people do not value donkeys. Even former President Festus Mogae is reported to have refused a gift donkey during one of his countrywide visits. He reportedly snubbed the gesture, saying that he had not been told about it.

But there is a man who has expressed his un-dying love for donkey. The 53-year-old Johannes Visagie is adamant that donkey farming is an untapped lifetime treasure.

His life took a different turn last year after he conducted research on donkey meat. Ever since then, donkey is what he talks, drinks, eats and dreams. He is probably the only person with the rather odd title of donkey dairy farmer.

Visagie is a donkey dairy farmer who sells his milk in Gaborone and surrounding areas. This is an untapped market with potential to bury acute poverty.  The man is now overwhelmed by his booming donkey milk market, which he cannot satisfy, generally because he works alone and donkeys naturally produce very little milk.

The Werda donkey farmer currently has ten donkeys from which he is able to get 250ml of milk each. “A donkey can only produce that much.  The milk is little but the magic is in its nutritional value,” he said. The milk is currently sold for P55 in 250ml bottles, a price that could change in the future.  A donkey has been discovered to be the only mammal on earth that has milk composition closest to human milk, he says. The only difference is the fat content.  “Donkey milk contains 0.3 to 0.8grams per 100ml compared to human milk which contains 3.5 to 4 grams of fat per 100ml,” said Visagie, adding that that is the reason why children can be raised on donkey milk. Research has also showed that donkey milk contains good protein, very high lactose (sugar for energy); more than 40% of amino acids needed by skin; very high calcium, and aminoglobin among many other nutritional properties.

Visagie reports that he is currently working with National Food Technology Centre (NAFTEC) to process donkey milk and later package it in to different products ranging from cosmetic products, pills to nutritious drinks.

“My aim is to penetrate the cosmetic industry. Currently I have sent samples to NAFTEC for deep freezing, a process which will turn the milk in to powder,” he said.

With the powder, Visagie aspires to produce products like donkey milk soap, facial cream, body lotions, energy tablets, powdered milk and nutritional drinks. The cosmetics idea came from the fact that people had been using donkey milk to wash their faces to ward off the effects of old age.

“My two daughters use donkey milk as well. One of them had a problem of pimple outbreaks but I can assure you that the pimples have now disappeared because donkey milk has cosmetic properties. The milk contains more than 40% of amino acids needed by the skin,” he said. 

Visagie already has a firm client base. “Currently soldiers make up  the majority of my clientele because

of the energy and protein in the milk. Sports people would no longer have to take drugs for energy. The pill will be a readily available source of energy that can be easily absorbed,” added.

The pill would also be used for health purposes because of its high nutritious value.

“This will be a very concentrated and natural pill,” he said, adding that high calcium in the milk will be beneficial for children and the elderly.

From observation, donkey milk has been beneficial even for children with skin allergies. “After bathing the baby, apply donkey milk. Allergies disappear in a few days. These are practical things. This is what we have observed our parents do throughout life,” he said.

Visagie has not struggled to lure the older generation in to buying his donkey milk, as most of them already know its value. It is the younger generations who have been skeptical. “There is stigma, but because some people are now testifying to benefits of this milk, we are now realising an shift of perceptions,” he said.

Milk is not Visage’s only interest in the donkey. He has also researched extensively on donkey meat.

Actually, he initially sold donkey meat before he branched in to the dairy business. He sold the meat as biltong. But this was not a viable business as it called for extra hard work, while the profit margin was low.

“Demand was high, but the business was physically taxing but I worked alone. I could not hire workers because of financial constraints,” he explained.

Visagie then researched more about meat processing. From the research, he concluded that processed meat was a better option. 

“I have engaged an expert who is currently working on recipes. I will be going for a meat processing factory rather than a butchery because we want to add value to donkey meat,” he noted. Donkey meat is said to be very nutritious, with an enticing unique taste.

“NAFTEC has discovered that donkey meat poly-saturated fats stands at 0.6% while the optimum for most food is 0.4%.  So donkey meat is superior to other foods. Omega 3 stands at 24.9% while it is only 4% for beef,” he said.

With the help of the Ministry of Agriculture, Visagie anticipates a bright future with his business. The Ministry of Agriculture has already offered him P25, 000 towards the purchase of donkeys. Visagie is grateful for this assistance. However, there are still challenges and many more will likely crop up in his journey.

“One of my challenges is that most of animal feeds subsidised by government contain Urea, which is toxic to donkey,” said. Visagie appealed to the private sector to assist him in his business, adding that he needed about 100 donkeys to make his business viable.




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