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Donkey exports: a well-intentioned trade gone wrong

Government recently banned the export of donkey meat and their products
When government started issuing export permits last year for trading in donkey meat and hides to the Asian market, it had an ambitious objective to create economic opportunities for local farmers.

This development, according to the government, was a result of a 2002 feasibility study conducted in Botswana on the possibility of exporting donkey meat to Europe.

Exporting donkey meat to China was seen as another opportunity to boost exports, which Botswana could tap into, as the donkey meat is considered a delicacy to Chinese people. The Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security had also identified other potentially lucrative markets for donkey meat such as Denmark, Germany and France.

Local farmers were urged to start rearing donkeys specifically for export as the government promised to keep tabs on whether the businesses would be viable.

However with hindsight, the decision proved to be ill-fated, as it threatened survival of the local donkey farming industry.

While donkey meat export was supposed to give Botswana a lift towards raking in revenues from the foreign exchange and moving the country into a bracket of trade surpluses, it turned out to be the bane of the industry and the economy.

As a result, the government has since moved to suspend export licences for donkeys and their products, citing concern on the “indiscriminate and cruel slaughter of donkeys”.

In a statement two weeks ago, the government said: “In this regard, issuance of all exports licences relating to donkeys and their products for export purpose is suspended indefinitely with immediate effect”.

This development was music to the ears of several donkey farmers who felt that the mass killings of the donkeys threatened their livelihoods.

Johannes Visagie, a 55-year-old resident of Werda in the Kgalagadi District is just one of the farmers who were overjoyed by the government’s decision to suspend export permits.As a donkey dairy farmer who sells his milk in Gaborone and surrounding areas, his business depends on the existence of donkeys in the country. He also sells cosmetic products such as lotion and soaps whose main ingredient is donkey milk. “Allowing people to export donkeys and their products poses a big threat to our business as it is likely to wipe

out our donkeys,” he said. According to Visagie, in 2009 there were more than 300,000 donkeys and the population has since dwindled to around 220,000. Visagie stated that his business can only be sustained if local donkeys are preserved so that farmers can continue to supply him with milk. As such he has been encouraging other farmers to conserve their donkeys and treat their farming as a moneymaking business that can bring wealth just like cattle farming.

Earlier on, some people had condemned the government’s decision to facilitate exports of donkeys and their products, stating that the trade is only short-lived, as would lead to extinction of the donkeys in the country.

One legislator, Setlhomo Lelatisitswe was quoted as saying that the trade would rather impoverish the farmers as donkeys have been used as a mode of transport as well as for ploughing by most rural farmers.

There was also consensus amongst the farmers that when issuing licences, government did not consider the impact of mass-slaughters on community livelihoods.

Apart from its traditional use as the beast of burden, the donkey’s meat is also a favourite delicacy amongst most people in Botswana.

In China and Hong Kong, donkey meat is considered a delicacy, while the hide is valued for the alleged medicinal qualities of gelatine, a natural chemical believed to have life extending qualities, in addition to treating insomnia and related medical conditions.

Demand for donkey hide, which is boiled to produce gelatine, the key ingredient in a medicine called ejiao, has raised the price and the rate of slaughter of the animals, threatening the livelihoods of poor communities who rely on them. Previous research conducted in 2015 revealed ejiao can sell for up to P3,878 per kilogramme. This has resulted in the establishment of Chinese companies locally that buy donkeys at around P550 per head.

This threatened arable farmers who use donkeys as draught power, as they would be left with nothing to use if the demand continues at this rate.




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