Even as Pakistan joins some African countries like Kenya and Nigeria to breed and export donkeys to China, said to be one of the worlds biggest consumers of donkeys, there are concerns the move might deplete the donkey population in the countries to such an extent that the whole species might be wiped, a media report said.
Last month, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government announced it would sell donkeys to China as a part of its Rs 1 billion Khyber Pakhtunkhwa-China Sustainable Donkey Development Programme, which was aimed to bring in Chinese investment into its agriculture sector.
The donkey development programmes is part of the portfolio prepared by the province to attract Chinese investment in its agriculture sector under the ambitious $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Although donkey skins have no value in the African countries who sell them, they are highly sought after in China where they are used in production of traditional medicines. Moreover, donkey meat is also believed to be more nutritious than other meats, Dunya News reported.
In the past, only the rich had the luxury of taking advantage of these medicines made from donkey hides, but a burgeoning middle class in China has fuelled the demand.
According to TRT World, 120 tonnes of donkey meat are exported from an average Kenyan donkey farm to China. This trade has spelled disaster for the donkey population there.
Dunya quoted a report published in TRT World, the international arm of the Turkish national broadcaster, that said the sale of donkeys and the illegal trade associated with it has had an adverse effect on their population in countries like Kenya and South Africa. As a result, some African countries have even banned donkey trading due to declining numbers.
It said TRT World also cited numbers and figures given by Britain-based charity The Donkey Sanctuary, which said that the global demand for donkeys is 10 million animals per year, against a supply of just 1.8 million. This makes the trade highly unfeasible and unsustainable, leading to a dwindling donkey population.
Considering these facts and the current scenario in African countries which are involved in the sale of donkeys to China, Pakistan should rethink its plans to pursue this programme, Dunya said.
In case this programme is not properly implemented, or Pakistan is unable to sustain a supply sufficient for the Chinese demand, the result would be a falling donkey population that is highly unfavourable.
The most important reason is the fact that donkeys are greatly valuable to the poor in the country, providing a cheap form of transport for people and goods, and thus, are an integral part of the struggle by poor people to make a living.
Moreover, donkeys are also of great value as a mode of transportation to traverse Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's mountainous terrains. Donkey trade might thus prove to be detrimental not only to the species itself, but also to those who regularly use donkeys as a means to transport themselves or their goods, it said.
According to media reports, Niger and Burkina Faso have announced a ban on donkey and donkey skin exports, as a result of massive imports by China, which, if left unchecked, will "decimate" their donkey populations.
China's interest in donkeys have affected Africa in myriad ways.
China needs donkeys for preparing a traditional and very popular remedy called Ejiao, believed to improve blood circulation, and cure conditions such as insomnia, dizziness, irregular menstruation etc.
Due to the preference for Ejiao, China's donkey population, over the past two decades, has decreased from 11 million to 6 million. According to government data, China's donkey population currently decreases at the rate of 300,000 a year, NewsBytes reported.
In Burkina Faso, China's donkey skin imports led to a growth of slaughterhouses. Donkey skin exports rose from 1,000 in the first quarter of 2015 to over 18,000 in the last quarter.
Some 45,000 of Burkina Faso's 1.4 million donkeys were slaughtered in the period from March-August 2016.
Blood and waste from slaughterhouses also affected groundwater in certain areas.
In Niger, from 27,000 donkeys exported in 2015, the number rose to 80,000 in 2016, while also leading to more than a 400 per cent increase in price – from $34 to $145.
Consequently, livestock traders are abandoning trade in other animals, with economic and ecological consequences.
According to the news site, China's insatiable demand for donkeys has left several other African countries affected in different ways from a growth of slaughter houses in Kenya to a surge in donkey skin smuggling in countries like Botswana and Zimbabwe.