Wednesday, 27 September 2023

In Agriculture

Donkey Business in Botswana

One man’s meat is another men’s poison. This phrase came so close to its literal meaning in the donkey business recently established in Africa. While many are grossed out by just the thought of eating donkey meat, some consider it a delicacy. This phenomenon only started gaining popularity in Africa during the advent of Chinese in Africa in the last half a decade.

It feels like scramble for Africa all over again as all eyes are on our donkeys. Africa now has to meet the growing demand of donkeys in China as the gap between supply and demand keeps increasing. 

China is reported to have only 3-million donkeys left, from 11 million in the early 1990s and can only supply 1.8million out of the 4 million needed each year.

Who knew donkeys could ever be this important! Not only is the business cashing in for the meat but also the hides have become the new ivory.

Just when we thought we had seen enough on the Chinese’s list of all the funny animals that they consume now donkey recently reached our ears. Chinese can consume just about any living creature, from cats to dogs, scorpion, snakes- you name it. ‘One donkey stew coming up! Gggrrrrhhhh’. Africa still has a long way before people carry on as normal after hearing that! 

Though donkey meat is quite new to Africa a feasibility study for the donkey business done in 2001 revealed that Botswana could also ex-port donkey meat to Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark and other European countries where donkey meat has been considered a delicacy for centuries. Just like beef, donkey meat can be used to make any meat dish. Those who have tasted it say the meat is flavoursome and delicately marbled and even consider it healthier than beef. 

For centuries animal hides have been commodified and used to make leather which is one of the most expensive material used to make shoes, belts, couches etc. In China donkey hides are popular for a whole different reason. I’m sure you had guessed that by now.

The skin is stewed to produce gel-like substance (gelatine) which is used to make Chinese traditional medicine called ejiao believed to treat a long list of ailments. Ejiao or donkey hide glue as some call it, is believed to be a sexual stimulant with anti-ageing properties. The ingredient is used to make bars, pills or tonics which are used to treat conditions like insomnia, dizziness, nose bleeding, dry cough, low libido, reduces the effects of chemotherapy, can help thin blood, cures menstrual cramps, cures men from baldness and is believed to reduce the chances of developing gynaecological diseases in postmenopausal women.

The traditional medicine has been used for nearly 2000 years and had almost disappeared. Its recent comeback on Chinese pharmacy shelves is the main reason why thousands of donkeys are being slaughtered and illegally sold in Botswana and in Africa at large. Though the alleged medicinal properties are unproven the price of Ejiao has multiplied 10 times since 2017 and keeps rising as donkeys have become a scarce commodity. 

Research on the donkey business shows that the business is a lucrative one but proper planning and regulations are needed to ensure the business does not affect the country negatively.

The former minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security Mr Patrick Ralotsia acknowledged that there was money to be made from exporting live donkeys, meat and hides. This led the government to send officials to scout for markets in the hopes of boosting the country’s economy.

The miracle remedy (Ejiao) has turned the donkey business in to a multi-million Pula business. The price rose from RMB200 per kilogram to RMB4000 since 2017 making it a viable business. Entrepreneurship is all about identifying gaps in the industry and finding solutions to such gaps which in turn becomes profitable. Those with superb business acumen skills can tell you that this is a good business to venture into. 

The economic rise of China has led to the rise in consumption hence the high demand of donkey products. Out of the 1.8 million donkeys that China can supply, a balance of 2.2 million donkeys is imported to meet the 4 million needed each year. 

To add on to the blossoming market the animal welfare organisations estimate that the demand for hides coming from China could even reach up to 10-million donkeys a year.

Basic economics tells us that if there is a high demand and low supply the price of the commodity goes up. So, the sooner one ventures into the business before it is flooded the better.

There are profit opportunities in selling donkey products as they are selling like hot cakes in China despite the rise in prices. In the last decade donkey hides price rose from less than $2USD to more than $460USD.

The meat is not only for human consumption but has been also used to make pet food which adds on to the profitability off the animal. The Re-opening of donkey abattoirs after the lifting of the nationwide moratorium which was imposed in 2017 has brought smiles to many homes. The reopening translates to job creation which is beneficial to the country’s economy.

Even though other countries have banned the donkey trade, countries like Kenya and South Africa are investing heavily in infrastructure and increasing donkey skin exports. For the country to benefit more and limit the number of donkeys being sold, tighter regulations and penalties must be imposed to limit illegal donkey trade and the price must be high enough to increase profits and reduce affordability therefore limiting the number of donkeys being sold.

The World donkey population is estimated at 44-million donkeys only. Due to the demand of donkey products the population of donkeys in Botswana has dropped drastically. From 2014-2016 the number dropped with a whopping 39% from 229,000 to 142,000 and the number keeps dropping.

It never rains but it pours, due to the depletion on the number of donkeys in the country those who need them the most tend to suffer more from the hiking prices and theft of the newly discovered 'gold'. This then dilutes the proposed advantage of the donkey trade.

The beast of burden (donkey) is considered a status symbol in impoverished communities and is used to provide aid in physical labour in farming and transporting goods.  The prices of donkey has doubled in the last 3 years reducing its affordability for the poor.  

The world could lose half its donkeys in the next five years and It's slow reproductive cycle puts it in substantial danger of extinction in the foreseeable future. Mother donkey carries her foal for 12-14 months, and they are also known to encounter fertility issues in farm conditions.

Other countries like Niger, Uganda and Burkina Faso have banned donkey gelatine export with the fear of the repercussions of trying to feed the Chinese donkey appetite. The Donkey Sanctuary has whistled the alarm on the biosecurity risks of the trade. Some donkey carcasses are kept in the same room as live animals. The unhygienic practices encourages the spread of diseases such as anthrax, tetanus and equine flu. 

Donkeys have been subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment.  the animals have suffered over crowding while awaiting their turn to the abattoir, cruel slaughtering methods as some are often beheaded while still alive. One that tops it all is starving the animals to death to allow for easier skinning.

The donkey business is a lucrative one and can surely improve Botswana's economy. Proper channels and regulations have to be followed to ensure that donkeys are protected and do not go into extinction given the rate at which the animals are being slaughtered and its long gestation period. 

If the business is to survive, tighter restrictions to slow down the slaughter rate will have to be imposed to also allow a breeding period of the animal for those willing to venture in to the business. Higher security measures will have to be observed to protect the newly discovered 'gold' as the theft rate has risen. 

Sources: SA People, Mmegi, Business Live, Ox Peckers, BBC

Cabanga Media Group publishes of thoughtful economic and business commentary magazines and online media, in several African markets, that include South Africa, Botswana, East Africa Community, Ethiopia, Egypt, Nigeria, and Zambia.