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Sunday, October 2, 2016

African countries ban donkey export to China

Burkina Faso  is a landlocked country in West Africa, surrounded by six countries: Mali, Niger, Togo, Ghanato, Ivory Coast and Benin.  French is an official language of government and business. Formerly called the Republic of Upper Volta, the country was renamed "Burkina Faso" in  1984 by then-President Thomas Sankara.   Recently, High court in Burkina Faso  dismissed charges against former president Blaise Compaoré. Compaoré was facing charges of high treason and attempts to change the country’s constitution.  “There is no legal basis on which to conduct judicial proceedings against Compaoré for these two charges,” the Prosecutor said.

In Economics according to the theory of Demand and Supply, when demand and supply is scarce, the price increases and suppliers tend to provide more .. but here it is a ban, when there is so much of demand !! Often we read about poverty and hunger in African countries. Forget gold, diamonds or rhino horn, food, - the hottest commodity in Africa now – the most prized ass-et,  is the humble donkey !!

Equus africanus asinus, a domesticated member of the horse family, Equidae – is found in the heart of Chennai too …. In villages, it could be a common sight – nearer Vivekananda College in Sivasami Salai, one can find a few donkeys, an animal used extensively by launderers. A male donkey or ass is called a jack, a female a jenny or jennet.  As beasts of burden and companions, asses have worked together with humans for millennia. During a recent visit to the holy divyadesam of Thirukurungudi  inTirunelveli – saw half a dozen donkeys loitering on the streets in the mid noon.  Donkey’s work often goes unrecognized be it in  Office or for the original animals.

Humans owe a lot to the humble donkey. Domesticated for more than five millennia, they have been used for everything from farming to warfare.   In this advanced industrialised World too,  the  poorest communities still rely on donkeys for their day-to-day needs and nowhere is this more apparent than in China: after two decades of economic growth, the country’s donkey population has dropped by almost half. This decline has had an unintended consequence for traditional medicine. When boiled, donkey skin produces a rubbery, gelatine-like substance, known as ejiao, which is included in many popular Chinese tonics and medicines for its perceived ability to cure coughs, relieve insomnia and revitalise the blood.

The scene shifts away ~ in Africa, it has had its impact. In the small Burkina Faso village of Balole, where farmers struggle to grow tomatoes, cabbages and aubergines, sickening stench from dozens of rotting donkey carcasses hangs in the air. This is the flipside of Burkina's booming trade in donkey meat and donkey hides.  Not Burkina Faso alone many African countries recently found booming trade in export of donkeys to China.


For China to achieve its massive 5,000-tonne production goal, it needs an estimated 4 million donkeys annually. Currently, China can supply just around 1.8 million donkeys. According to a CNN report, the number of donkeys in China fell from 11 million to six million in the last 20 years.  This decline is attributed to several factors such as increase in demand for donkey hide, low fertility and long gestation period of donkeys and increasing occupational shift from traditional agriculture towards advanced industry within China.  China started to rely heavily on imports from African nations, which have a natural abundance of this animal. Mainly Niger and Burkina Faso export. Kenya and South Africa  were the new entrants – but African countries are imposing ban.   Niger, which exported 80,000 donkeys in 2016, has banned donkey exports to China since the exorbitantly high demand is allegedly causing a 'decimation' of the donkey population there. So has Burkina Faso. The countries feel that it is unfair to deplete a resource and deny their own populations its benefits, just to fulfill exports.

Gelatin produced from donkey hide is a key ingredient of one of China's favorite traditional remedies, known as ejiao, which is used to treat a range of ailments from colds to insomnia.  The ban on donkey exports by African countries, is reportedly China’s biggest threat to global economy, says Harvard professor. A  Niger government official,  justifying the ban said that “If the export continues the animals will be decimated.”

The average price of a donkey increased by around three-fold, as many livestock sellers switched  to donkey breeding as this trade became more profitable.  Now the Countries have understood that they have started over-exploiting their natural resource.  .. so comes the donkey ban.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

2nd Oct 2016.

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