Ethiopia is thought to be home to the largest number of donkeys © SIPA USA/PA Images
Ethiopia is thought to be home to the largest number of donkeys © SIPA USA/PA Images

Ethiopia ponders donkey farming policy

29 November 2018

Ethiopia’s burgeoning donkey farming industry will be the subject of a forum in Addis Adaba this week as the country considers expanding its trade in skins and meat.

Ethiopia is home to an estimated 8.5m donkeys, thought to be the largest number in any one country.

The Donkey Sanctuary and Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture will co-host the forum, where Ethiopia is expected to commit to safeguarding the country’s national donkey herd, farming only animals specially dedicated to the trade.

The Donkey Sanctuary said Ethiopia was re-evaluating its policy on the donkey skin trade after revoking licences for a number of donkey slaughterhouses last year following protests over inhumane conditions.

The government is now considering farming donkeys to meet the demand for skins from China, granting licences for the export of donkeys to be slaughtered outside the country or even re-opening slaughterhouses inside Ethiopia.

The forum aims to help stakeholders to understand and identify the opportunities and challenges that the donkey skin and meat trade presents.

Donkey populations worldwide are under threat from the escalating pressure for their skins, which are used to produce a gelatin used in ejiao, a traditional Chinese medicine.

Simon Pope, campaigns manager at The Donkey Sanctuary, said: “We want to see the donkey skin trade halted until such time as it is shown to be humane and sustainable. This applies to every country currently engaged in the trade.

“Here in Ethiopia we’ve been assured by the government that trade will not impact on Ethiopia’s national donkey herd and that supply will only come from donkeys bred and farmed within the country for that sole purpose.”

He said the organisation’s presence at the forum did not mean that “we condone or promote or support donkey farming – simply that when the opportunity arises to inform a debate or discussion, then we will actively engage”. 

OIPA, the International Organisation for Animal Protection, said African countries were a key target for the donkey skin trade.

It said that in 2016 the trade to China from sub-Saharan Africa represented approximately 25% of all trade, compared to just 2.3% in 1985, thanks to the growing cooperation between African governments and China.

It said the illegal, unregulated slaughter of stolen donkeys often vied with legal, government-sanctioned slaughterhouses in these countries. 

OIPA cited how, for example, 250 skinned donkey carcasses were discovered in Egypt, and mentioned reports in Tanzania of donkeys being stolen in rural areas and donkeys slaughtered in South Africa for their skins.

While some governments approved donkey slaughterhouses, such as in Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania and Kenya, other countries such as Burkina Faso and Niger, have banned the export of donkeys and their products.

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